1839-1908 Ouida.

Helianthus : a novel online

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I 908

Copyright in the United States of America^ 1908




The unfinished novel contained in the following
pages is the last work of the gifted writer who was
so widely known during her lifetime under the nom
de plume of * Ouida.* Illness and other causes
retarded her in writing the story, which as a matter
of fact was planned and outlined some years ago,
and at her death it was found to be still incomplete.
Fortunately, however, the first twenty-nine chapters
had been set up in type as they were written ; and
as these chapters would clearly have constituted by
far the larger portion of the completed book, it has
been judged best to publish them, without alteration
or addition, exactly in the form in which they were
left by their author after having been revised by her
in proof.

February 1908.



The sun was setting over the sea of the west, and
its glow shone on the beautiful and classic city of
Helios, the capital of the ancient land of Helianthus.
In the long and stately streets, clouds of dust were
golden with the sad reflection of an unseen glory
which is, at such an hour, all that many thousands of
the dwellers in cities enjoy of the beauty of evening.
The thoroughfares of the capital were full of people,
and down the central street of all, so famous in
history, a cavalcade was passing, a military feast for
the eyes of a population which was not allowed many
other pleasures. On either side of the street, which
had been in great part widened, altered, modernised,
made monotonous and correct, white marble was the
chief architectural feature, and great white palaces
towered towards the clear sky, which was blue, deeply
blue, like the bells of the wild hyacinth. Striped
awnings, scarlet and white, the national colours,
stretched over the balconies ; there were flags droop-
ing from gilded flagstafl^s in most of the windows,
from most of the doorways ; the flowers which
had been cast down from above on to the pavement
were already trodden into the dust, and there was

(B B


a curious odour of natural and artificial perfumes, of
burnt powder, of trampled roses, of hot flesh, equine
and human, steaming from the heat of the past day.
Porphyry pillars, galleries of gilded metal, of pierced
woodwork or of bronze arabesques, sculptured
porticoes, painted shrines, plate-glass shop-fronts,
hanging tapestries, frescoed frontages, shone in the
amber luminance of the early evening. The dull-
coloured clothing of a metropolitan crowd was largely
broken up by the deep yellows, the red purples, the
light blues, the dark crimsons, of the costumes of the
country, and of the seafaring, peoples, and by the
uniforms of the soldiery lining the edges of the
pavements ; great bursts of martial music enlivened
the air ; the brilliancy of sunset lent to the scene a
gaiety not its own.

Despite the passing of two thousand years
the capital of Helianthus was still a beautiful and
classic city, throned on its eternal hills, with the
semicircle of its shore washed by the Mare Magnum,
and the mountains on the opposite side of the
bay soaring to the clouds, and often capped by
snow until the month of May. Modernity, the
brutal and blundering Cyclops who misconceives
himself to be a fruitful and beneficent deity, had
struck his stupid blows at its temples, its domes,
its towers, its palaces, had strewn its soil with
shattered marbles, had felled its sacred laurel
groves, had sullied or silenced its falling or rushing
waters, had befouled with smoke its white marble
colonnades, its towering palm plumes, its odorous
gardens. Modernity had driven his steam-roller
over the narcissus, the hyacinth, the cheiranthus ;
and steam pistons throbbed where the doves of


Aphrodite had nested. But the city was still noble
through the past, and unspeakably fair through those
portions of unviolated heritage which it retained ;
and its domes and minarets and bell - towers still
shone in the light of the sun or the moon against the
deep green of its cypress and cedar groves.

Many of its streets were still untouched ; its
women still carried their bronze jars to its fountains ;
its avenues of planes, and tulip-trees, and magnolias,
were not all destroyed, though defiled by the shriek-
ing tramway engines, the stinking automobiles, and
though their boughs were often cruelly hacked and
cut away to leave free passage for these modern
gods, the electric wire and the petrol car. Ever and
again, some porphyry basin whose waters gleamed
beneath the great green leafage of sycamores ; some
colossal figure of hero or of deity ; some silent stately
arcade, with the sea glistening beyond its arches ;
some sun-browned, mighty, crenelated wall ; some
vast palace with ogive windows, and gratings elabor-
ately wrought, and bronze doors in basso-relievo,
and deep overhanging roofs, and machicolated
towers ; these would recall all that Helios had been
in ages when its white oxen were sacrificed to gods
who are now remembered only in the nomenclature
of the constellations of the sky, and its poets, who
are still quoted by mankind, were crowned with the
wild olive and the laurel in its holy places. With
furious haste whole quarters had been torn down
and swept aside and replaced by the mindless, ignoble,
and monotonous constructions of the present time ;
but other quarters still remained where the native
population thronged together, gay in their poverty
and mirthful in their rags, although hunger lay


down with them at night and arose with them in
the morning, continual companion of their working
hours. For a brief space on this festal day they
ceased from labour, and tried to forget their
starvation in the sight of their rulers and the
soldiery of this imperial and military spectacle.

The King had already passed, with his beloved
friend and nephew, one of those friends to be kissed
on both cheeks and watched with hand on hilt. It
was for the Emperor Julius that the military display
on the Field of Ares had been made that day, and
the Emperor Julius had said many sweet and gracious
things about it : what he had thought was another
matter, which concerned no one.

After the King, there had passed the Crown
Prince, with his cousin, the young son of the great
Julius, receiving the conventional cheers which are
given to those who are powerful but not beloved.
Then had followed a squadron of White Cuirassiers,
a dazzling regiment ; some companies of the Rhastian
Mountaineers, a popular corps, with the feathers of
the wild turkey in their hats ; some squadrons of
light cavalry on weedy and weary horses, not well-
groomed and still less well-fed, the small and slender
horses of the treeless plains of the south-east; and
some field-batteries not exceedingly smart in appear-
ance nor exact in movement, of which the gun-
carriages lumbered along, too heavy for their weakly
teams, whilst the metal of cannon and of caisson
was dusty and dull. After these tramped some
companies of infantry, very young soldiers, thin,
and small of stature, who wore ill-fitting uniforms
and were footsore and fatigued. No one cheered


Suddenly there was a movement of reviving
interest ; the ladies who had risen to leave the
balconies returned, and reseated themselves ; the
people pushed each other forward, and scrambled
to get out of the centre of the roadway, the guards
thrusting back some scores roughly and needlessly.
A half-squadron of Hussars came in sight, trotting
briskly with drawn swords ; behind them was an
open carriage with four horses and postillions in the
royal liveries, azure and silver. In the carriage was
a young man in uniform, who carried his hussar's
shako on his knee, and nodded familiarly with a
tired smile to the multitudes who cheered him. He
did not look up to the balconies and windows of the
palaces, although their occupants cast roses and lilies
down as he passed ; he looked at the populace
crowding the roadway.

He came and went in a cloud of sun-gilt dust, a
vehement and ardent roar of voices greeting him on
his way ; ladies above waved their handkerchiefs and
kissed the flowers they threw ; the people below
pushed and hurt each other in their efforts to get
nearer to him ; his carriage swept by in a storm of
applause and loud cries of ' Elim ! Elim ! Elim !
Long live Prince Elim ! '

* There goes one who is at heart with us,' said a
journalist of the city to a friend as they stood
together in the crowd.

' No,' said the friend, who was wiser. * He is
with no one. He sees too clearly to find satisfaction
in modern politics. We cannot content him any
more than his own people do.'

The young prince passing at that moment recog-
nised the two speakers as writers on the Republican


Press of Helios, and made them a friendly gesture
of his hand.

His father's police-spies, mingling with the throng
as mere citizens or operatives, saw the gesture and
noted it.

His carriage passed on, the horses fretting and
fuming at the pressure of the populace against their

The people cried again : ' Elim ! Elim ! Elim !
Long life to Elim ! '

He bowed to the crowds with a smile which was
neither glad nor gay. He was thinking : ' They
would come out in the same numbers to see the pro-
cession of a travelling menagerie ; and if there were
a blue lion or a green tiger to be seen they would
cheer as warmly.'

He regretted that the crowds did come out, did
cheer. It dwarfed human nature in his eyes ; it
made him ashamed of his own countrymen. So, if
the statue of a god could think, would it feel towards
its worshippers, whether it were named Zeus, Buddha,
Christ, or Jehovah.

To the mind of the thinker there is no spectacle
more painful, more provocative of wonder and of
sadness, than the sight of the multitudes of a capital
city standing for hours in sun, or rain, or snow,
elbowing each other for a foremost place, breaking
down tree -tops, stone copings, marble pedestals,
bruising the bosoms of women and crushing the limbs
of children, in order to see a royal procession pass by
along familiar roadways. And this young prince
was a thinker, a philosophic thinker, although having
been born in the purple he had no right to be so.
For the first duty of a prince is never to allow his


mind to stray outside the ring-fence of received and
conventional opinion ; he must never question the
superiority of his own order any more than the
serving-priest of Christian churches must question
the divinity of the Eucharist. If you do not believe
in yourself, who will believe in you ?

The young prince now passing between the two
lines of cheering people did not believe in himself, nor
in his order, nor in his family, nor in any superiority of
his or theirs. The enthusiasm of the crowds left him
cold, for he rightly regarded such enthusiasm as too
similar to the blind worship of trees and stones and
carven woods by barbaric races, to be worth anything
in the estimation of a reasonable being. It was fetish-
worship : nothing else. That he himself was the
fetish at the moment could not make the superstition
any more worthy in his sight.

Three thousand years earlier the people of Egypt
had thus clamoured in praise of their Pharaohs.
Where was the progress of the human race .'' Why
must humanity always have a fetish of some sort ?
Why ? It would perplex the wisest philosopher to
say. Bisons and buffaloes in a natural state of exist-
ence elect a monarch, we are told ; but they are said
to take the strongest, greatest, finest of the herd.
Men do not do this ; they cannot do it ; for a civilised
man, being a complicated creature, is apt to lack in
one thing in proportion to what he possesses in
another. If the successful fighter be selected by them,
as by the bison or buffalo, they get a Wellington who
becomes a failure in politics ; or if they take the
man of genius, they get a Lamartine or a Disraeli ; or
even if they obtain a Napoleon, power goes to their
Napoleon's head and all is red ruin. So, in fear of


the unusual, they cling to the ordinary conventional
hereditary person, and endow him with imaginary
^qualities, and hedge him about with symbols, and
functions, and office-holders, and make-belief of all
kinds. The bison and buffalo would not be satisfied
with this ; but man is, or at least the majority of
men are.

* Is that one of the King*s sons ? ' asked a foreigner
speaking ill the language of the country.

The artisan to whom he spoke understood the
question, despite the ugly accent of the stranger.

* Who are you, that you do not know Elim ? ' he

* Elim ? ' repeated the foreigner, not compre-

' Prince Elim,' repeated the man. * Our Elim.'

* The Duke of Othyris/ added another working-

' Oh, to be sure,' said the stranger, * the Heir
Presumptive, is he not ? '

* The most popular person in the country,' said an
idler, who had a carnation between his teeth.

' He seems very popular indeed,' said the foreigner,
with interrogation in his tone.

' All the family are,' said the idler with the carna-
tion drily ; then catching from under the white cap
of one who was dressed like a cook from a restaurant
a sharp glance, which seemed to him that of a spy in
disguise, he raised his hat and said reverently, * Christ
have them all in His keeping.'

The foreigner was touched. * And they say these
people are malcontents and revolutionaries ! ' he
murmured to a companion, as he stooped to pick up
a rose which had been thrown from a window to the


carnage of the Duke of Othyris, and had missed its

' The malcontents have muzzles on,' said his friend.
* Sixteen hundred men were clapped in prison before
the Emperor's arrival, and some thousands are con-
fined to their own houses/

' But it is a constitutional country ! ' protested
the traveller from overseas.

* Oh yes,' answered the other, ' on paper and in
theory ! '

' Circulate, circulate, circulate ! ' said the gen-
darmes, imitating their brethren of the larger capitals
of Europe, and enforcing their order with thrusts
from their elbows, or from the pommels of their
sabres, into the ribs or the chests of the people.

The glow from the western sky died down, the
shadows lengthened and crept upward to the zinc
roofs ; the balconies were emptied, the electric light
flashed suddenly down the whole street, and made
the faces of the multitude look hard, jaded, pallid,
dejected ; a dull silence fell on the populace, a silence
in which the rumbling of the tram-cars, readmitted
to movement after half-a-day's exclusion, sounded like
a caricature of the artillery which had passed down
there twenty minutes before. The tired children
cried, the hustled women sighed, the men who had
been knocked about by fists and sabres went sullenly
homeward, the wounded were carried into hospital ;
the festivities were over.

From the open windows of the palaces and hotels
arose a steam and scent of good things to eat and
good wines to drink, and spread itself through all the
length of the street, mingling with, and overpowering,
the odours of flowers, and powder, and hot human


and equine flesh. It made many of the poorer sight-
seers in the crowd feel hungry, more hungry than
ever ; and it made the little tired children cry louder
to go home.

' The Romans gave bread as well as the Circus/
thought EHm, Duke of Othyris, as his carriage turned
in at his palace gates. 'We are more economical.
We only give the Circus, and even that we run for
our own use.'

The sound of cheering in the distance rolled down
the soft air and sounded like repeated firing.

What were they cheering now ? Who ? Why ^
At that instant the crowd gathered before his own
residence in the Square of the Dioscuri was cheering
himself; but that made the ovation seem no wiser
to him.

What was that clamour worth ?

Ten minutes earlier they had cheered his father
and his imperial cousin. They had cheered equally
the great artillery guns, and the sweating battery
horses, although they knew well enough that if
they themselves offended authority, the guns would
belch red death on to them, and the horses be driven,
under the slashing whip cord, over their fallen

* O fools ! O fools ! ' he said to himself, as he who
pities humanity is always driven in sorrow, or in
anger, or in both, to say it. Panem et Circenses !
It is always the old story. Cassar may use up their
bodies on his battlefields, and grind their souls to dust
under his tyrannies, if he give them the arena — even
without the bread. So long as he pleases their fancies,
or dazzles their eyes, they will cheer him ; and they
are pleased by so little, and dazzled by such tawdry


tinsel ! Why did the people flock to see this very
paltry pageant ? Why did not the men go about
their work or their business, and the women shut
their windows ? No one could force them to turn
out in their thousands, and waste a whole day ; and
if they were not there to line the streets, and be
hustled by the police, Caesar might arrive at a juster
view of his own actual values and proportions.
There is much they cannot do ; but some things they
might do ; and to stay indoors on a day like this is
one of them.

The traveller from a distant continent, which is
called a new country, probably because it was old
when Atlantis was submerged, went to dine at a
restaurant which was modelled on the eating-places
of that great Guthonic empire ruled by the Emperor
Julius ; the cooks were Guthonic, the waiters were
Guthonic, even the wines, which were Helianthine,
were labelled by Guthonic names. The annexing of
a nation usually begins with its bills of fare.

The stranger from overseas was curious, and
questioned the attendant who brought him his coffee
and cognac.

' What was it,' he asked, * that happened on the
Field of Ares to-day, and made the public give such
an enthusiastic reception to the King's second son ? '

' There was an unfortunate incident during the
march past, sir,' replied the man, seeing that the amount
of money left for him on the salver was generous.
' I do not know details. Some country folks got
across the line of the defile ; the Duke stopped his
squadrons and occupied himself v/ith the safety of the
people and their beasts ; the cavalry division was in
consequence some minutes late ; it made a break in


the march past ; it is said His Majesty was displeased
at the breach of discipline.'

'Perhaps he is jealous of his son's greater popu-
larity ? '

* The King is very popular, sir,' said the waiter
with discretion.

' Is that so ? ' said the visitor, incredulous. * The
King is a very strict disciplinarian, they say ? '

* He is considered so : yes, sir.'

* But would he have had his son see his subjects
trampled to death before his eyes without an effort
to save them ? '

* I believe, sir. His Majesty does not think any-
thing of so much importance as military exactitude ;
and the persons who would have been run over were
very low people — cowherds or swineherds, I believe.'

* I understand why the nation prefers his son to
himself,' said the foreigner with a smile.

' Oh, sir, I never said that the Duke was pre-
ferred ! '

* But he is so, my friend. What a difference
there was in the cheering ! '

The attendant took his fee off the salver and was
discreetly silent.

' I guess he is a fine fellow, that Duke,' said the
traveller, as he rose, took his cane and overcoat, and
went out on to the broad white marble quay where
the tamarisks and the magnolias showed the blue
water between their trunks ; that blue water which
has been the Mare Magnum of two thousand years
of history.

The waiter saw him go out with relief ; this kind
of conversation is dangerous in Helianthus, which is
a free country.


The traveller might say what he chose, thought the
man ; it was a serious thing to interrupt and delay a
march past, merely because some common folks might
have been injured. It was quite natural that King
John should be very angry, and report said that
King John when angry was as unpleasant to encounter
as the wild boar which was the emblem of his royal

The waiter, having imbibed bourgeois and con-
ventional opinion as he imbibed heel-taps, admired
this characteristic. It seemed to him truly imperial.

For in this world there would be no tyrants if
there were no toadies.


The people's favourite, on reaching his own resi-
dence, changed his uniform for plain clothes, drank
some soda water, and took his way, as the Ave
Maria rang over the city from a thousand churches,
chapels, and bell -towers, to the palace in which
his royal father dwelt, and which was known as the

The Soleia was a group of castles, halls, and
temples, which were built round the great central
edifice of which the dome glistened with gilded
Oriental tiles, and could be seen many miles off
from either the mountains or the sea. It was a
wondrous unison of many styles and ages, beginning
with the Byzantine ; palace built on palace as beavers'
dwellings cluster on each other. In one of these
resided the Crown Prince and Princess of Helianthus.
It was thither that Othyris was bent.

* Who knows,' he thought, ' what they may not
have told her, and what fears are not agitating her
good, kind, buckram-bound heart ? '

He took a short path across the gardens of the
Soleia to the portion of it occupied by his sister-in-
law and his brother Theodoric, the heir to the throne.

The Crown Prince was the only scion of a first
alliance contracted in early youth with a princess of a



small northern State now mediatised and merged in
a great Power. His mother had died in the third year
of her marriage, having reproduced in her son exactly
her own character, grafted on to that of John of
GunderOde, whose shrewd talents, however, were not
inherited ; for the Crown Prince was what would
have been called in an ordinary mortal, stupid. He had
the hopelessly unillumined and incorrigible dulness
which comes from a naturally narrow brain, budded on
the platitudes of conventional education and manured
by the heating phosphates of flattery. He had an
implicit belief in his knowledge and judgment, and
was completely satisfied as to his indispensable utility
to his nation. In appearance he was a tall, well-built,
spare, and very muscular man, red of hair and ruddy of
skin, rigid and stiff in movement ; his forehead was
low, his jaw was prominent ; he had little intelligence,
little comprehension ; he had immense belief in him-
self, in his family, in his caste ; he was religious,
chaste, absorbed in his duties ; to his soldiers he was
brutal, but that, he considered, was at once their
good and his own privilege. He had wedded a
cousin-german, a princess of a neighbouring empire ;
he had by her only two female children ; this was
the greatest chagrin of his life. Excellent as his
morality was, he could not suppress a sense of
pleasurable hope whenever his wife took cold. Being
a conscientious and religious person, he did not allow
his mind to dwell on the contingencies which might
arise out of a fatal illness ; but the sentiment of pleasur-
able expectation, whenever she coughed, was there.

The Crown Princess was by birth Guthonic, a
cousin-german of the great Julius. She was a
homely-looking woman of thirty-two years of age ;

1 6 HELIANTHUS chap.

she had a plain face, pale blue eyes, and a high
colour ; she dressed with great simplicity on all
except State occasions, and had a kindly and simple
manner, which could, however, on occasion become
cold and dignified though always bland.

She was sitting by an open glass door, knitting
a stocking for a poor child ; she wore a gown of
grey stuff with a white linen collar and cuffs ; she
seemed to take pleasure in accentuating her own
homeliness and want of grace and of colour. She had
nothing to distinguish her from any good and homely

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaHelianthus : a novel → online text (page 1 of 30)