1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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than the waste of emotion, the profuse expenditure of
fruitless pain, which every hour, every moment, as it
passes, causes to millions of living creatures. If it were
of any use who would mind ? But it is all waste, frightful
waste, to no end, to no end.



A H, well ! it is our moments of blindness and of folly
*"* that are the sole ones of happiness for all of us on
earth. We only see clearly, I think, when we have
reached the depths of woe.



A BRANCH OF LILAC. 219

T^RANCE was a great sea in storm, on which the lives
of all men were as frail boats tossing to their graves.
Some were blown east, some west : they passed each
other in the endless night, and never knew, the tempest
blew so strong.



YV7INTER tries hardly all the wandering races : if the
year were all summer, all the world would be
Bohemians.



YV7E poured out blood like water, and much of it wns
" the proud blue blood of the old nobility. We
should have saved France, I am sure, if there had been
any one who had known how to consolidate and lead us.
No one did ; so it was all of no use.

Guerillas like us can do much, very much, but to do
so much that it is victory we must have a genius amidst
us. And we had none. If the First Bonaparte had been
alive and with us, we should have chased the foe as
Marius the Cimbri.

I think other nations will say so in the future : at the
prese-nt they are all dazzled, they do not see clearly they
are all worshipping the rising sun. It is blood-red, and
it blinds them.



TT is so strange ! We see a million faces, we hear a
million voices, we meet a million women with flowers
in their breasts and light in their fair eyes, and they do
not touch us. Then we see one, and she holds for us
life or death, and plays with them idly so often as idly
as a child with toys. She is not nobler, better, or more
beautiful than were all those we passed, and yet the world
is empty to us without her.



SIGNA.

TN the garden of these children all the flora of Italy
was gathered and was growing.

The delights of an Italian garden are countless. It is
not like any other garden in the world. It is at once
more formal and more wild, at once greener with more
abundant youth and venerable with more antique age.
It has all Boccaccio between its walls, all Petrarca in its
leaves, all Raffaelle in its skies. And then the sunshine
that beggars words and laughs at painters ! the bound-
less, intense, delicious, heavenly light ! What do other
gardens know of that, save in orange-groves of Granada
and rose thickets of Damascus ?

The old broken marble statues, whence the water
dripped and fed the water-lily ; the great lemon-trees
in pots big enough to drown a boy, the golden globes
among their emerald leaves ; the magnolias, like trees
cast in bronze, with all the spice of India in their cups ;
the spires of ivory bells that the yuccas put forth, like
belfries for fairies ; the oleanders taller than a man, red
and white and blush colour ; the broad velvet leaves of
the flowering rush ; the dark majestic ilex oaks, that
made the noon like twilight ; the countless graces of
the vast family of acacias ; the high box hedges, s\veet
and pungent in the sun ; the stone ponds, where the
gold-fish slept through the sultry day ; the wilderness



SIGN A. 221

of carnations ; the huge roses, yellow, crimson, snow-
white, and the small noisette and the banksia with its
million of pink stars ; myrtles in dense thickets, and
camellias like a wood of evergreens ; cacti in all quaint
shapes, like fossils astonished to find themselves again
alive ; high walls, vine-hung and topped by pines and
cypresses ; low walls with crowds of geraniums on their
parapets, and the mountains and the fields beyond them;
marble basins hidden in creepers where the frogs dozed
all day long ; sounds of convent bells and of chapel
chimes ; green lizards basking on the flags ; great sheds
and granaries beautiful with the clematis and the wisteria
and the rosy trumpets of the bignonia ; great wooden
places cool and shady, with vast arched entrances, and
scent of hay, and empty casks, and red earthen amphorae,
and little mice scudding on the floors, and a sun-dial
painted on the wall, and a crucifix set above the weather-
cock, and through the huge unglazed windows sight of
the green vines with the bullocks in the harvest-carts
beneath them, or of some hilly sunlit road with a mule-
team coming down it, or of a blue high hill with its pine-
trees black against the sky, and on its slopes the yellow
corn and misty olive. This was their garden ; it is ten
thousand other gardens in the land.

The old painters had these gardens, and walked in
them, and thought nothing better could be needed for
any scene of Annunciation or Adoration, and so put
them in beyond the windows of Bethlehem or behind
the Throne of the Lamb and who can wonder?



T N these little ancient burghs and hillside villages, scat-
tered up and down between mountain and sea, there
is often some boy or girl, with a more wonderful voice,
or a more beautiful face, or a sweeter knack of song, or
a more vivid trick of improvisation than the others ; and



222 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

this boy or girl strays away some day with a little bundle
of clothes, and a coin or two, or is fetched away by some
far-sighted pedlar in such human wares, who buys them
as bird-fanciers buy the finches from the nets ; and then,
3'ears and years afterwards, the town or hamlet hears
indistinctly of some great prima donna, or of some lark-
throated tenor, that the big world is making happy as
kings, and rich as kings' treasurers, and the people
carding the flax or shelling the chestnuts say to one
another, " That was little black Lia, or that was our
old Momo ;" but Momo or Lia the village or the vine-
field never sees again.



T



HE heart of silver falls ever into the hands of brass.
The sensitive herb is eaten as grass by the swine.



"CATE will have it so. Fate is so old, and weary of her
task ; she must have some diversion. It is Fate
who blinded Love for sport, and on the shoulders of
Possession hung the wallet full of stones and sand
Satiety.



A S passion yet unknown thrills in the adolescent, ns
*~ maternity yet undreamed of stirs in the maiden ;
so the love of art comes to the artist before he can give
a voice to his thought or any name to his desire.

Signa heard " beautiful things " as he sat in the rising
moonlight, with the bells of the little bindweed white
about his feet.

That was all he could have said.

Whether the angels sent them on the breeze, or the
birds brought them, or the dead men came and sang
them to him, he could not tell. ' Indeed, who can tell ?



SIGN A. 223

Where did Guido see the golden hair of St. Michael
gleam upon the wind ? Where did Mozart hear the
awful cries of the risen dead come to judgment ? What
voice was in the fountain of Vaucluse ? Under what
nodding oxlip did Shakespeare find Titania asleep ?
When did the Mother of Love come down, chaster in
her unclothed loveliness than vestal in her veil, and with
such vision of her make obscure Cleomenes immortal?

Who can tell?

Signa sat dreaming, with his chin upon his hands,
and his eyes wandering over all the silent place, from
the closed flowers at his feet to the moon in her circles
of mist.

Who walks in these paths now may go back four
hundred years. They are changed in nothing. Through
their high hedges of rhododendron and of jessamine that
grow like woodland trees it would still seem but natural
to see Raffaelle with his court-train of students, or Sig-
norelli splendid in those apparellings which were the
comment of his age ; and on these broad stone terraces
with the lizards basking on their steps and the trees
opening to show a vine-covered hill with the white
oxen creeping down it and the blue mountains farther
still behind, it would be but fitting to see a dark figure
sitting and painting lilies upon a golden ground, or
cherubs' heads upon a panel of cypress wood, and to
hear that this painter was the monk Angelico.

The deepest charm of these old gardens, as of their
country, is, after all, that in them it is possible to forget
the present age.

In the full, drowsy, voluptuous noon, when they are
a gorgeous blaze of colour and a very intoxication of
fragrance, as in the ethereal white moonlight of mid-
night, when, with the silver beams and the white
blossoms and the pale marbles, they are like a world
of snow, their charm is one of rest, silence, leisure,



224 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

dreams, and passion all in one ; they belong to the days
when art was a living power, when love was a thing of
heaven or of hell, and when men had the faith of children
and the force of gods.

Those days are dead, but in these old gardens you can
believe still that you live in them.



" IDIPPA!" echoed Istriel. His memories were wakened

* by the name, and went back to the days of his
youth, when he had gone through the fields at evening,
when the purple beanflower was in bloom.

"What is your name then ?" he asked, with a changed
sound in his voice, and with his fair cheek paler.

" I am Bruno Marcillo ; I come from the hills above
the Lastra a Signa."

Istriel rose, and looked at him ; he had not remem-
bered dead Pippa for many a year. All in a moment he
did remember : the long light days, the little grey-walled
town, the meetings in the vine-hung paths, when sunset
burned the skies ; the girl with the pearls on her round
brown throat, the moonlit nights, with the strings of the
guitar throbbing, and the hearts of the lovers leaping ;
the sweet, eager, thoughtless passion that swayed them
one to another, as two flowers are blown together in the
mild soft winds of summer ; he remembered it all now.

And he had forgotten so long ; forgotten so utterly ;
save now and then, when in some great man's house he
had chanced to see some painting done in his youth, and
sold then for a few gold coins, of a tender tempestuous
face, half smiling and half sobbing, full of storm and
sunshine, both in one ; and then at such times had
thought, "Poor little fool! she loved me too well; it
is the worst fault a woman has."

Some regret he had felt, and some remorse when he
had found the garret empty, and had lost Pippa from



SIGN A. 22$

sight in the great sea of chance ; but she had wearied
him, importuned him, clung to him ; she had had the
worst fault, she had loved him too much. He had been
young and poor, and very ambitious ; he had been soon
reconciled ; he had soon learned to think that it was a
burden best fallen from his shoulders. No doubt she
had suffered ; but there was no help for that some one
always suffered when these ties were broken so he had
said to himself. And then there had come success and
fame, and the pleasures of the world and the triumphs
of art, and Pippa had dropped from his 'thoughts as dead
blossoms from a bough ; and he had loved so many other
women, that he could not have counted them ; and the
memory of that boy-and-girl romance in the green hill
country of the old Etruscan land had died away from
him like a song long mute.

Now, all at once, Pippa's hand seemed to touch him
Pippa's voice seemed to rouse him Pippa's eyes seemed
to look at him.



T T was very early in the morning.

There had been heavy rains at night, and there was,
when the sun rose, everywhere, that white fog of the Val-
darno country which is like a silvery cloud hanging over
all the earth. It spreads everywhere and blends together
land and sky ; but it has breaks of exquisite transparen-
cies, through which the gold of the sunbeam shines, and
the rose of the dawn blushes, and the summits of the
hills gleam here and there, with a white monastery, or a
mountain belfry, or a cluster of cypresses seen through
it, hung in the air as it were, and framed like pictures in
the silvery mist.

It is no noxious steam rising from the rivers and the
rains : no grey and oppressive obliteration of the face of

P



226 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF OUIDA.

the world like the fogs of the north ; no weight on the
lungs and blindness to the eyes ; no burden of leaden
damp lying heavy on the soil and on the spirit ; no wall
built up between the sun and men ; but a fog that is as
beautiful as the full moonlight is nay, more beautiful,
for it has beams of warmth, glories of colour, glimpses of
landscape such as the moon would coldly kill ; and the
bells ring, and the sheep bleat, and the birds sing under-
neath its shadow ; and the sun-rays come through it,
darted like angels' spears : and it has in it all the promise
of the morning, and all the sounds of the waking day.



A GREAT darkness was over all his mind like the
^^ plague of that unending night which brooded over
Egypt.

All the ferocity of his nature was scourged into its
greatest strength ; he was sensible of nothing except the
sense that he was beaten in the one aim and purpose of
his life.

Only if by any chance he could still save the boy.

That one thought companion with him, sleeping and
waking, through so many joyless nights stayed with him
still

It seemed to him that he would have strength to scale
the very heights of heaven, and shake the very throne of
God until He heard to save the boy.

The night was far gone ; the red of the day-dawn began
to glow, and the stars paled.

He did not know how time went ; but he knew the
look of the daybreak. When the skies looked so through
his grated windows at home, he rose and said a prayer,
and went down and unbarred his doors, and led out his
white beasts to the plough, or between the golden lines
of the reaped corn ; all that was over now.



SIGNA. 227

The birds were waking on the old, green hills and the
crocus flowers unclosing ; but he

" I shall never see it again," he thought, and his heart
yearned to it, and the great, hot, slow tears of a man's
woe stole into his aching eyes and burned them. But
he had no pity on himself.

He had freedom and health and strength and man-
hood, and he was still not old, and still might win the
favour of women, and see his children laugh if he went
back to the old homestead, and the old safe ways of his
fathers. And the very smell of the earth there was sweet
to him as a virgin's breath, and the mere toil of the ground
had been dear to him by reason of the faithful love that
he bore to his birthplace. But he had no pity on himself.

" My soul for his," he had said ; and he cleaved to his
word and kept it.

In his day he had been savage to others. He was no
less so to himself.

He had done all that he knew how to do. He had
crushed out the natural evil of him and denied the desires
of the flesh, and changed his very nature to do good by
Pippa's son : and it had all been of no use ; it had all
been spent in vain, as drowning seamen's cries for help
are spent on angry winds and yawning waters. He had
tried to follow God's will and to drive the tempter from
him, for the boy's sake ; and it had all been of no avail.
Through the long score of years his vain sacrifices echoed
dully by him as a dropt stone through the dark shaft of
a well.

Perhaps it was not enough.

Perhaps it was needful that he should redeem the boy's
soul by the utter surrender and eternal ruin of his own
perhaps. After all it was a poor love which balanced
cost ; a meek, mean love which would not dare to take
guilt upon it for the thing it cherished.

To him crime was crime in naked utter blackness ;



22S WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

without aught of those palliatives with which the cultured
and philosophic temper can streak it smooth and paint
its soft excuse, and trace it back to influence or insanity.
To him sin was a mighty, hideous, hell-born thing, which
being embraced dragged him who kissed it on the mouth,
downward and downward into bottomless pits of endless
night and ceaseless torment. To him the depths of hell
and heights of heaven were real as he had seen them in
the visions of Orgagna.

Yet he was willing to say, " Evil, be thou my good ! "
if by such evil he could break the bonds of passion from
the life of Pippa's son.

He had in him the mighty fanaticism which has made
at once the tyrants and the martyrs of the world.

" Leave him to me," he had said, and then the strength
and weakness, and ruthless heat, and utter self-deliverance
of his nature leaped to their height, and nerved him with
deadly passion.

"There is but one way," .he said to himself; there
was but one way to cut the cords of this hideous, tangled
knot of destiny and let free the boy to the old ways of
innocence.

" He will curse me," he thought ; " I shall die never
looking on his face never hearing his voice. But he
will be freed so. He will suffer for a day a year.
But he will be spared the truth. And he is so young
he will be glad again before the summer comes."

For a moment his courage failed him.

He could face the thought of an eternity of pain, and
not turn pale, nor pause. But to die with the boy's curse
on him that was harder.

" It is selfishness to pause," he told himself. " He will
loathe me always ; but what matter ? -he will be saved ;
he will be innocent once more ; he will hear his ' beauti-
ful things ' again ; he will never know the truth ; he will
be at peace with himself, and forget before the summer



SIGNA. 229

comes. He never has loved me not much. What does
it matter ? so that he is saved. When he sees his mother
in heaven some day, then she will say to him ' It was
done for your sake.' And I shall know that he sees then,
as God sees. That will be enough."



'"THE boy looked out through the iron bars of his open
* lattice into the cold, still night, full of the smell of
fallen leaves and fir cones. The tears fell down his cheeks ;
his henrt was oppressed with a vague yearning, such -as
made Mozart weep, when he heard his own Lacrimosa
chanted.

It is not fear of death, it is not desire of life.

It is that unutterable want, that nameless longing,
which stirs in the soul that is a little purer than its fellow,
and which, burdened with that prophetic pain which men
call genius, blindly feels its way after some great light,
that knows must be shining somewhere upon other worlds,
though all the earth is dark.

When Mozart wept, it was for the world he could never
reach not for the world he left.



LJ E had been brought up upon this wooded spur,
looking down on the Signa country ; all his loves
and hatreds, joys and pains, had been known here ; from
the time he had plucked the maple leaves in autumn for
the cattle with little brown five-year-old hands he had
laboured here, never seeing the sun set elsewhere except
on that one night at the sea. He was close rooted to the
earth as the stonepines were and the oaks. It had always
seemed to him that a man should die where he took life



230 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

first, amongst his kindred and under the sods that his
feet had run over in babyhood. He had never thought
much about it, but unconsciously the fibres of his heart
had twisted themselves round all the smallest and the
biggest things of his home as the tendrils of a strong ivy
bush fasten round a great tower and the little stones
alike.

The wooden settle where his mother had sat ; the shrine
in the house wall ; the copper vessels that had glowed in
the wood-fuel light when a large family had gathered
there about the hearth ; the stone well under the walnut-
tree where dead Dina had often stayed to smile on him ;
the cypress-wood presses where Pippa had kept her feast-
day finery and her pearls ; the old vast sweet-smelling
sheds and stables where he had threshed and hewn and
yoked his oxen thirty years if one : all these things, and
a hundred like them, were dear to him with all the
memories of his entire life ; and away from them he could
know no peace.

He was going away into a great darkness. He had
nothing to guide him. The iron of a wasted love, of a
useless sacrifice, was in his heart. His instinct drove
him where there was peril for Pippa's son that was
all.

If this woman took the lad away from him, where was
there any mercy or justice, earthly or divine ? That was
all he asked himself, blindly and stupidly ; as the oxen
seem to ask it with their mild, sad eyes as they strain
under the yoke and goad, suffering and not knowing why
they suffer.

Nothing was clear to Bruno.

Only life had taught him that Love is the brother of
Death.

One thing and another had come between him and the
lad he cherished. The dreams of the child, the desires
of the youth, the powers of art, the passion of genius, one



SIGNA. 231

by one had come in between him and loosened his hold,
and made him stand aloof as a stranger. But Love he
had dreaded most of all ; Love which slays with one
glance dreams and art and genius, and lays them dead as
rootless weeds that rot in burning suns.

Now Love had come.

He worked all day, holding the sickness of fear off him
as best he could, for he was a brave man ; only he had
wrestled with fate so long, and it seemed always to beat
him, and almost he grew tired.

He cut a week's fodder for the beasts, and left all things
in their places, and then, as the day darkened, prepared
to go.

Tinello and Pastore lowed at him, thrusting their
broad white foreheads and soft noses over their stable
door.

He :urned and stroked them in farewell.

" Poor beasts ! " he muttered ; " shall I never muzzle
and ycke you ever again ?"

His throat grew dry, his eyes grew dim. He was like
a man who sails for a voyage on unknown seas, and
neither he nor any other can tell whether he will ever
returi.

He might come back in a day ; he might come back
never.

Mdtitudes, well used to wander, would have laughed
at bin. But to him it was as though he set forth on the
jourrey which men call death.

In the grey lowering evening he kissed the beasts on
their white brows. There was no one there to see his
wealness, and year on year he had decked them with
their garlands of hedge flowers and led them up on God's
dry to have their strength blessed by the priest their
sfength that laboured with his own from dawn to dark
o'er the bare brown fields.

Then he turned his back on his old home, and went



232 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF OUIDA.

down the green sides of the hill, and lost sight of his
birthplace as the night fell.

All through the night he was borne away by the edge
of the sea, along the wild windy shores, through the
stagnant marshes and the black pools where the buffalo
and the wild boar herded, past the deserted citiss of the
coast, and beyond the forsaken harbours of JEneas and
of Nero.

The west wind blew strong ; the clouds wer2 heavy ;
now and then the moon shone on a sullen sea ; now and
then the darkness broke over rank maremma vapours ;
at times he heard the distant bellowing of the herds, at
times he heard the moaning of the water ; migity cities,
lost armies, slaughtered hosts, foundered fleets, were
underneath that soil and sea ; whole nations had their
sepulchres on that low, wind-blown shore. But of these
he knew nothing.

It only seemed to him, that day would never cone.

Once or twice he fell asleep for a few momen:s, and
waking in that confused noise of the stormy night and
the wild water and the frightened herds, thought that he
was dead, and that this sound was the passing of the feet
of all the living multitude going for ever to and fro, un-
thinking, over the depths of the dark earth where he lay.



'T'O behold the dominion of evil ; the victory of theliar ;
* the empire of that which is base ; to be powa-less
to resist, impotent to strip it bare ; to watch it suck under
a beloved life as the whirlpool the gold-freighted vessel ;
to know that the soul for which we would give ouro-vn
to everlasting ruin is daily, hourly, momentarily subji-
t^ated, emasculated, possessed, devoured by those alitn
powers of violence and fraud which have fastened upcn
it as their prey ; to stand by fettered and mute, and cy



SIGNA. 233

out to heaven that in this conflict the angels themselves
should descend to wrestle for us, and yet know that all
the while the very stars in their courses shall sooner stand
still than this reign of sin be ended : this is the greatest
woe that the world holds.

Beaten, we shake in vain the adamant gates of a brazen
iniquity ; we may bruise our breasts there till we die ;
there is no entrance possible. For that which is vile is
stronger than all love, all faith, all pure desire, all pas-
sionate pain ; that which is vile has all the forces that



Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 16 of 39)