1839-1908 Ouida.

Wisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida online

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thrust under we heaved, an' heaved, an' heaved, and got
it slanted o' one side, and drawed him out ; an' thin it
were too late, too late ! A' tha brist was crushit in
frushed flesh and bone together. He jist muttered i' his
throat, ' Tha little lass, tha little lass ! ' and then he turned
him on his side, and hid his face upo' the sod. When we
raised him he wur dead."

The voice of Ambrose sank very low ; and where he
leaned over his smithy door the tears fell slowly down his
sun-bronzed cheeks.

"Alack a day ! " sighed Daffe, softly. " Sure a better
un niver drew breatli i' the varsal world ! "

"An' that's trew," Ambrose made answer, his voice
hushed and very tender.

" He was varra changed like," murmured Daffe, his
hand wandering amongst the golden blossoms of the



stonecrop. " He niver were the same crittur arter the
lass went awa'. He niver were the same niver. Ta
seemed tew mak an auld man o' him a' at once."

" It did," said Ambrose, brokenly. " He couldna bear
tew look na tew spik to nane o' us. He were bent i'
body, an' gray o' head, that awfu' night when he kem
back fra' the waking. It were fearfu' tew see ; and we
couldna dew naught. Th' ony thing as he'd take tew were

"Be dog alive?"

" Na. Trust he'd never quit o' Ben's grave. He wouldna
take bit na drop. He wouldna be touchit ; not whin he
was clem would he be tempted awa'. And he died jist
tha fifth day arter his master."

"An' the wench? Hev' 'ee e'er heerd on her?"

"Niver niver. Mappen she's dead and gone tew. She
broke Ben's heart for sure ; long ere tha ston' cm shit life
out o't."

" And wheer may he lie ? "

Ambrose clenched his brawny hand, his eyes darkened,
his swarthy face flushed duskily.

"Wheer? What think 'ee, Daffe? When we took o'
him up for the burial, ta tha church ower theer beyant
tha wood, the passon he stoppit us, a' tha gate of tha
buryin' field. The passon he med long words, and sed as
how a unb'liever sud niver rest i' blessed groun', sin he
willna iver enter into the sight o' tha Lord. He sed as
how Ben were black o' heart and wicked o' mind, an' niver
set fute i' church-door, and niver ate o' tha sacrament
bread, and niver not thocht o' God nor o' Devil ; an' he
wouldna say tha rites o'er him an' 'twere iver so, an' he
wouldna let him lie i' tha holy earth, nor i' tha pale o' tha
graveyard. Well, we couldna gae agin him we poor
min, an' he a squire and passon tew. Sae we took him
back, five weary mile ; and we brocht him here, and we
dug his grave under them pines, and we pit a cross o' tha

PUCK. 131

bark to mark the place, and we laid old Trust, when he
died, by his side. I were mad with grief like, thin ; it
were awfu' ta ha' him forbad Christian burial."

"Dew it matter?" asked the gentle Daffe, wistfully.
He had never been within church-doors himself.

Ambrose gave a long troubled sigh.

" Aweel 1 at first it seemed awfu' awfu' ! And to think
as Ben 'ud niver see the face o' his God was mair fearfu'
still. But as time gees on and on I can see his grave
fra' here, tha cross we cut is tha glimmer o' white on that
stem ayont, it dew seem as 'tis fitter like fer him to lie i'
tha fresh free woods, wi' tha birds a' chirmin' abuve him,
an' a' tha forest things as he minded a flyin', an' nestin',
an 3 runnin', an' rejoicin' arount him. 'Tis allus so still
there, an' peacefu'. 'Tis blue and blue now, wi' tha
hy'cinths ; and there's one bonnie mavis as dew make
her home wi' each spring abuve the gravestone. 'Bout
not meetin' his God, I dunno I darena saw nowt anent
it but, for sure, it dew seem to me that we canna meet
Him no better, nor fairer, than wi' lips that ha ne'er lied
to man nor to woman, and wi' hands as niver hae harmed
the poor dumb beasts nor the prattlin' birds. It dew
seem so. I canna tell."

As the words died off his lips the sun fell yet more
brightly through the avenues of the straight, dark, odorous
pines ; sweet silent winds swept up the dewy scents of
mosses, and of leaves, and of wild hyacinths ; and on the
stillness of that lonely place there came one tremulous,
tender sound. It was the sound of the mavis singing.

" I canna tell ; but for sure it is well with him?" said
Ambrose ; and he bared his head, and bowed it humbly,
as though in the voice of the mavis he heard the answer
of God :

" It is well."

Ah ! I trust that it may be so for you ; that the sweet-
ness of your arrogant dreams of an unshared eternity be


not wholly a delusion ; that for you although to us you
do deny it there may be found pity, atonement, compen-
sation, in some great Hereafter.

" T HAVE heard a very great many men and women
call the crows carrion birds, and the jackals carrion
beasts, with an infinite deal of disgust and much fine
horror at what they were pleased to term 'feasting on
corpses ; ' but I never yet heard any of them admit their
own appetite for the rotten ' corpse ' of a pheasant, or the
putrid haunch of a deer, to be anything except the choice
taste of an epicure ! "

" But they do cook the corpses ! " I remonstrated ;
whereupon she grinned with more meaning than ever.

" Exactly what I am saying, my dear. Their love of
synonyms has made them forget that they are carni-
vori, because they talk so sweetly of the cuisine. A poor,
blundering, honest, ignorant lion only kills and eats when
the famine of his body forces him to obey that law of
slaughter which is imposed on all created things, from
the oyster to the man, by what we are told is the beautiful
and beneficent economy of Creation. Of course, the lion
is a brutal and bloodthirsty beast of prey, to be hunted
down off the face of the earth as fast as may be. Whereas
man what does he do ? He devours the livers of a dozen
geese in one pate; he has lobsters boiled alive, that the
scarlet tint may look tempting to his palate ; he has fish
cut up or fried in all its living agonies, lest he should lose
one nuance of its flavour ; he has the calf and the lamb
killed in their tender age, that he may eat dainty sweet-
breads ; he has quails and plovers slaughtered in the
nesting-season, that he may taste a slice of their breasts ;
he crushes oysters in his teeth whilst life is in them ; he
has scores of birds and animals slain for one dinner, that

PUCK. 133

he may have the numberless dishes which fashion exacts ;
and then all the time talking softly of rissole and mayon-
naise, of consomme' and entremct, of croquette and cbtelette
the dear gourmet discourses on his charming science,
and thanks God that he is not as the parded beasts that
prey ! "

" Well," said I, sulkily, for I am fond myself of a good
vol-an-vent) " well, you have said that eating is a law in
the economies or the waste of creation. Is it not well
to clothe a distasteful and barbaric necessity in a refining
guise and under an elegant nomenclature ?"

" Sophist !" said Fanfreluche, with much scorn, though
she herself is as keen an epicure and as suave a sophist,
for that matter, as I know, " I never denied that it was
well for men to cheat themselves, through the art of their
cooks, into believing that they are not brutes and beasts
of prey it is well exceedingly for their vanity. Life is
sustained only by the destruction of life. Cookery, the
divine, can turn this horrible fact into a poetic idealism ;
can twine the butcher's knife with lilies, and hide the
carcass under roses. But I do assuredly think that, when
they sit down every night with their menu of twenty ser-
vices, they should not call the poor lion bad names for
eating an antelope once a fortnight."

And, with the true consistency of preachers, Fanfre-
luche helped herself to a Madeira stewed kidney which
stood amongst other delicacies on the deserted luncheon

" T F this play should succeed it will be a triumph of true
art," said another critical writer to Dudley Moore.

That great personage tapped his Louis-Quinze snuff-
box with some impatience.

" Pardon me, but it is not possible to have art at all
on the stage. Art is a pure idealism. You can have it


in a statue, a melody, a poem ; but you cannot have it on
the stage, which is at its highest but a graphic realism.
The very finest acting is only fine in proportion as it is
an exact reproduction of physical life. How, then, can
it be art, which is only great in proportion as it escapes
from the physical life into the spiritual ? "

"But may not dramatic art escape thither also?" asked
the critic, who was young, and deferred to him.

" Impossible, sir. It is shackled with all the forms of
eai'th, and worse still with all its shams and common-
places. When we read Othello, we only behold the tem-
pest of the passions and the wreck of a great soul ; but
when we see Othello, we are affronted by the colour of
the Moor's skin, and are brought face to face with the
vulgarities of the bolster ! "

"Then there is no use in a stage at all?"

" I am not prepared to conclude that. It is agreeable
to a vast number of people : as a Frith or an O'Neil is
agreeable to a vast number of people to whom an Ary
Scheffer or a Delaroche would be unintelligible. It is
better, perhaps, that this vast number should look at
Friths and O'Neils than that they should never look on
any painting at all. Now the stage paints rudely, often
tawdrily; still it does paint. It is better than nothing-.
I take it that the excellence, as the end, of histrionic art
is to portray, to the minds of the many, poetic conceptions
which, without such realistic rendering, would remain
unknown and impalpable to all save the few. Histrionic
art is at its greatest only when it is the follower and the
interpreter of literature ; the actor translates the poet's
meanings into the common tongue that is understood of
the people. But how many on the miserable stage of
this country have ever had either humility to perceive, or
capability to achieve this?"

The other critic smiled.

" I imagine not one, in our day. Their view of their

PUCK. 135

profession is similar to Mrs. Delamere's, when Max Mon-
crief wrote that sparkling comedy for her. ' My dear/
she said to him, ' why did you trouble yourself to put all
that wit and sense into it ? We didn't want that. I
shall wear all my diamonds, and I have ordered three
splendid new dresses ! ' "

A LL day long the fowls kept it alive with sound and
** movement ; for of all mercurial and fussy things
there is nothing on the face of the earth to equal cocks
and hens. They have such an utterly exaggerated sense,
too, of their own importance ; they make such a clacking
and clucking over every egg, such a scratching and
trumpeting over every morsel of treasure-trove, and such
a striding and stamping over every bit of well-worn
ground. On the whole, I think poultry have more hu-
manity in them than any other race, footed or feathered ;
and cocks certainly must have been the first creatures
that ever hit on the great art of advertising. Myself I
always fancy that the souls of this feathered tribe pass
into the bodies of journalists ; but this may be a mere
baseless association of kindred ideas in my mind.

C HE kissed the dog on the forehead ; then pointed to
^ the kreel of shells and seaweed on the red, smooth
piece of rock.

" Take care of them, dear Bronze," she murmured ;
" and wait till I come back. Wait here."

She did not mean to command ; she only meant to
console him by the appointment of some service.

Bronze looked in her face with eyes of woe and longing;
but he made no moan or sound, but only stretched him-


self beside the kreel on guard. I am always glad to
think that as she went she turned, and kissed him once

The boat flew fast over the water. When boats leave
you, and drag your heart with them, they always go like
that ; and when they come, and your heart darts out to
meet them, then they are so slow !

The boat flew like a seagull, the sun bright upon her
sail. Bronze, left upon the rock, lifted his head and gave
one long, low wail. It echoed woefully and terribly over
the wide, quiet waters. They gave back no answer not
even the poor answer that lies in echo.

It was very still there. Nothing was in sight except
that single little sail shining against the light, and flying
flying flying.

Now and then you could hear a clock striking in the
distant village, the faint crow of a cock, the far-off voices
of children calling to one another.

The little sea-mouse stole athwart a pool ; the grey
sea-crabs passed like a little army ; the tiny sea creatures
that dwelt in rosy shells thrust their delicate heads from
their houses to peep and wonder at the sun. But all was
noiseless. How dared they make a sound, when that
great sea, that was at once their life and death, was pre-
sent with its never-ceasing " Hush ! "

Bronze never moved, and his eyes never turned from
the little boat that went and left him there the little
boat that fast became merely a flash and speck of white
against the azure air, no bigger than the breadth of a sea-
gull's wings.

An hour drifted by. The church-clock on the cliffs
had struck four times ; a deep-toned, weary bell, that
tolled for every quarter, and must often have been heard,
at dead of night, by dying men, drowning unshriven and

Suddenly the sand about us, so fawn-hued, smooth,

PUCK. 137

and beautifully ribbed, grew moist, and glistened with a
gleam of water, like eyes that fill with tears.

Bronze never saw : he only watched the boat. A little
later the water gushed above the sand, and, gathering in
a frail rippling edge of foam, rolled up and broke upon
the rock.

And still he never saw ; for still he watched the boat.

Awhile, and the water grew in volume, and filled the
mouse's pool till it brimmed over, and bathed the dull
grasses till they glowed like flowers ; and drew the sea-
crabs and the tiny dwellers of the shells back once more
into its wondrous living light.

And all around the fresh tide rose, silently thus about
the rocks and stones; gliding and glancing in all the
channels of the shore, until the sands were covered, and
the grasses gathered in, and all the creeping, hueless
things were lost within its space ; and in the stead of
them, and of the bronzed palm-leaves of weed, and of
the great brown boulders gleaming in the sun, there was
but one vast lagoon of shadovvless bright water every-

And still he never saw ; for still he watched the boat.

By this time the tide, rolling swiftly in before a strong
sou'-wester, had risen midway against the rock on which
we had been left, and was breaking froth and foam upon
the rock's worn side. For this rock alone withstood the
passage of the sea : there was naught else but this to
break the even width of water. All other things save
this had been subdued and reapen.

It was all deep water around ; and the water glowed a
strange emerald green, like the green in a lizard or snake.
The shore, that had looked so near, now seemed so far,
far off; and the woods were hidden in mist, and the
cottages were all blurred with the brown of the cliff, and
there came no sound of any sort from the land no distant
bell, no farm-bird's call, no echo of children's voices.


There was only one sound at all ; and that was the low,
soft, ceaseless murmuring of the tide as it glided inward.

The waters rose till they touched the crest of the rock ;
but still he never moved. Stretched out upon the stone,
guarding the things of her trust, and with his eyes fas-
tened on the sail which rose against the light, he waited
thus for death.

I was light, and a strong swimmer. I had been tossed
on those waves from my birth. Buffeted, fatigued, blind
with the salt sea-spray, drenched with the weight of the
water, I struggled across that calm dread width of glassy
coldness, and breathless reached the land.

By signs and cries I made them wot that something
needed them at sea. They began to get ready a little
boat, bringing it down from its wooden rest on high dry
ground beneath the cliff. Whilst they pushed and dragged
through the deep-furrowed sand I gazed seaward. The
shore was raised ; I could see straight athwart the waters.
They now were level with the rock; and yet he had never

The little skiff had passed round the bend of a bluff,
and was out of his sight and ours.

The boat was pushed into the surf; they threw me in.
They could see nothing, and trusted to my guidance.

I had skill enough to make them discover whither it
was I wanted them to go. Then, looking in their eager-
ness whither my eyes went, they saw him on the rock,
and with a sudden exercise of passionate vigour, bent to
their oars and sent the boat against the hard opposing
force of the resisting tide. For they perceived that, from
some cause, he was motionless there, and could not use
his strength ; and they knew that it would be shame to
their manhood if, within sight of their land, the creature
who had succoured their brethren in the snow, and saved
the two-year child from the storm, should perish before their
sight on a calm and unfretted sea and in a full noon sun.

PUCK. 139

It was but a furlong to that rock; it was but the
breadth of the beach, that at low water stretched un-
covered ; and yet how slowly the boat sped, with the
ruthless tide sweeping it back as fast as the oars bore
it forward !

So near we seemed to him that one would have thought
a stone flung from us through the air would have lit far
beyond him ; and yet the space was enough, more than
enough, to bar us from him, filled as it was with the
strong adverse pressure of those low, swift, in-rushing

The waters leaped above the summit of the rock, and
for a moment covered him. A great shout went up from
the rowers beside me. They strained in every nerve to
reach him ; and the roll of a fresh swell of water lifted
the boat farther than their uttermost effort could achieve,
but lifted her backward, backward to the land.

When the waters touched him he arose slowly, and
stood at bay like a stag upon a headland, when the
hounds rage behind, and in front yawns the fathomless

He stood so that he still guarded the things of his
trust ; and his eyes were still turned seaward, watching
for the vanished sail.

Once ^gain the men, with a loud cry to him of courage
and help, strained at their oars, and drove themselves a
yard's breadth farther out. And once again the tide,
with a rush of surf and shingle, swept the boat back,
and seemed to bear her to the land as lightly as though
she were a leaf with which a wind was playing.

The waters covered the surface of the rock. It sank
from sight. The foam was white about his feet, and still
he stood there upon guard. Everywhere there was the
brilliancy of noontide sun ; everywhere there was the
beaming calmness of the sea, that spread out, far and
wide, in one vast sheet of light ; from the wooded line of


the shore there echoed the distant gaiety of a woman's
laugh. A breeze, softly stirring through the warm air,
brought with it from the land the scent of myrtle thickets
and wild flowers. How horrible they were the light,
the calm, the mirth, the summer fragrance !

For one moment he stood there erect ; his dark form
sculptured, lion-like, against the warm yellow light of
noon ; about his feet the foam.

Then, all noiselessly, a great, curled, compact wave
surged over him, breaking upon him, sweeping him away.
The water spread out quickly, smooth and gleaming like
the rest. He rose, grasping in his teeth the kreel of weed
and shells.

He had waited until the last. Driven from the post he
would not of himself forsake, the love of life awoke in
him ; he struggled against death.

Three times he sank, three times he rose. The sea
was now strong, and deep, and swift of pace, rushing
madly in ; and he was cumbered with that weight of
osier and of weed, which yet he never yielded, because it
had been her trust. With each yard that the tide bore
him forward, by so much it bore us backward. There
was but the length of a spar between us, and yet it was
enough !

He rose for the fourth time, his head above the surf,
the kreel uplifted still, the sun-rays full upon his brown
weary eyes, with all their silent agony and mute appeal.
Then the tide, fuller, wilder, deeper with each wave that
rolled, and washing as it went all things of the shore
from their places, flung against him, as it swept on, a
great rough limb of driftwood. It struck him as he rose ;
struck him across the brow. The wave rushed on ; the
tide came in ; the black wood floated to the shore ; he
never rose again.

And scarcely that span of the length of a spar had
parted us from him when he sank !

PUCK. 141

All the day through they searched, and searched with
all the skill of men sea-born and sea-bred. The fisher,
whose little child he had saved in the winter night, would
not leave him to the things of the deep. And at sunset
they found him, floating westward, in the calm water
where the rays of the sun made it golden and warm. He
was quite dead ; but in his teeth there still was clenched
the osier kreel, washed empty of its freight.

They buried him there ; on the shore underneath the
cliff, where a great wild knot of myrtle grows, and the
honeysuckle blooms all over the sand. And when Lord
Beltran in that autumn came, and heard how he had
died in the fulfilling of a trust, he had a stone shapen
and carved ; and set it against the cliff, amongst the
leafage and flowers, high up where the highest winter
tide will not come. And by his will the name of Bronze
was cut on it in deep letters that will not wear out, and
on which the sun will strike with every evening that it
shall pass westward above the sea ; and beneath the name
he bade three lines be chiselled likewise, and they are
these :




ur FHEY are all words. Creatures that take out their
* grief in crape and mortuary tablets can't feel very


" There are many lamentations, from Lycidas to Lesbia,

which prove that whether for a hero or a sparrow " I

began timidly to suggest.

"That's only a commonplace," snapped my lady.

" They chatter and scribble ; they don't feel. They write

stanzas of 'gush' on Maternity ; and tear the little bleat-


ing calf from its mother to bleed to death in a long, slow
agony. They maunder twaddle about Infancy over some
ugly red lump of human flesh, in whose creation their
vanity happens to be involved ; and then go out and send
the springtide lamb to the slaughter, and shoot the parent
birds as they fly to the nest where their fledglings are
screaming in hunger ! Pooh ! Did you never find out
the value of their words ? Some one of them has said
that speech was given them to conceal their thoughts.
It is true that they use it for that end ; but it was given
them for this reason. At the time of the creation, when
all except man had been made, the Angel of Life, who
had been bidden to summon the world out of chaos,
moving over the fresh and yet innocent earth, thought to
himself, ' I have created so much that is doomed to suffer
for ever, and for ever be mute ; I will now create an
animal that shall be compensated for all suffering by
listening to the sound of its own voluble chatter.'
Whereon the Angel called Man into being, and cut the
frcenum of his tongue, which has clacked incessantly ever
since, all through the silence of the centuries."

'"THERE was once a dog, my dear, that was hit by three
* men, one after another, as they went by him where
he lay in the sun ; and in return he bit them deep and
they let him alone then, and ever after sought to pro-
pitiate him. Well, the first he bit in the arm, where there
was a brand for deserting ; and the second he bit in the
throat, where there was a hideous mole ; and the third
he bit in the shoulder, where there was the mark of a
secret camorra. Now, not one of these three durst speak
of the wounds in places they all wished to hide; and
whenever afterwards they passed the dog, they gave him
fair words, and sweet bones, and a wide berth. It is the
dogs, and the satirists, and the libellers, and the states-

PUCK. 143

men who know how to bite like that in the weak part
that get let alone, and respected, and fed on the fat of the

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 10 of 39)