1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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of love and hate.

"The man is innocent," he had said insisting, whilst
the carmine light had glowed on the lagoons and bridges,
and on the Lombard walls, and Gothic gables, and high
bell-towers, and ducal palaces, and feudal fortresses of
the city in whose street Crichton fell to the hired steel of

C HE had the heaven-born faculty of observation of the
^ poets, and she had that instinct of delight in natural
beauty which made Linnaeus fall on his knees before
the English gorse and thank God for having made so
beautiful a thing.

Her sympathies and her imaginings spent themselves
in solitary song as she made the old strings of the lute
throb in low cadence when she sat solitary by her hearth
on the rock floor of the grave ; and out of doors her
eyes filled and her lips laughed when she wandered
through the leafy land and found the warbler's nest
hung upon the reeds, or the first branching asphodel in
flower. She could not have told why these made her
happy, why she could watch for half a day untired the
little wren building where the gladwyn blossomed on
the water's edge. It was only human life that hurt her,
embittered her, and filled her with hatred of it.

As she walked one golden noon by the Sasso Scritto,
clothed with its myrtle and thyme and its quaint cacti that
later would bear their purple heads of fruit ; the shining
sea beside her, and above her the bold arbutus-covered
heights, with the little bells of the sheep sounding on


their sides, she saw a large fish, radiant as a gem, with
eyes like rubies. Some men had it ; a hook was in its
golden gills, and they had tied its tail to the hook so
that it could not stir, and they had put it in a pail of
water that it might not die too quickly, die ere they could
sell it. A little further on she saw a large green and gold
snake, one of the most harmless of all earth's creatures,
that only asked to creep into the sunshine, to sleep in
its hole in the rock, to live out its short, innocent life
under the honey smile of the rosemary ; the same men
stoned it to death, heaping the pebbles and broken
sandstone on it, and it perished slowly in long agony,
being large and tenacious of life. Yet a little further
on, again, she saw a big square trap of netting, with a
blinded chaffinch as decoy. The trap was full of birds,
some fifty or sixty of them, all kinds of birds, from the
plain brown minstrel, beloved of the poets, to the merry
and amber-winged oriole, from the dark grey or russet-
bodied fly-catcher and whinchat to the glossy and hand-
some jay, cheated and caught as he was going back to
the north ; they had been trapped, and would be strung
on a string and sold for a copper coin the dozen and
of many of them the wings or the legs were broken and
the eyes were already dim. The men who had taken
them were seated on the thymy turf grinning like apes,
with pipes in their mouths, and a flask of wine between
their knees.

She passed on, helpless.

She thought of words that Joconda had once quoted
to her, words which said that men were made in God's
likeness !

it is winter the porphyrion sails down the
willowy streams beside the sultan-hen that is
to be his love, and sees her not, and stars not her


passage upon the water or through the air ; she does
not live as yet to him. But when the breath of the
spring brings the catkins from the willows, and the
violets amidst the wood-moss on the banks, then he
awakes and beholds her ; and then the stream reflects
but her shape for him, and the rushes are full of the
melody of his love-call. It was still winter with Este
a bitter winter of discontent ; and he had no eyes for
this water-bird that swam with him through the icy
current of his adversity.

To break the frozen flood that imprisoned him was
his only thought.

A IR is the king of physicians ; he who stands often
/^ with nothing between him and the open heavens
will gain from them health both moral and physical.

""VES ; you have a right to know. After all, it was
ruin to me, but it is not much of a story ; a tale-
teller with his guitar on a vintage night would soon
make a better one. I loved a woman. She lived in
Mantua. So did I, too. For her sake I lost three
whole years three years of the best of my life. And
yet, what is gain except love, and what better than joy
can we have ? A pomegranate is ripe but once. And
I my pomegranate is rotten for evermore ! We lived
in Mantua. It is a strange sad place. It was great
and gay enough once. Grander pomp than Mantua's
there was never known in Italy. Felix Mantua !
and now it is all decaying, mouldering, sinking, fading ;
it is silent as death ; the mists, the waters, the empty
palaces, the walls that the marshes are eating little by
little every day, the grass and the moss and the wild
birds' nests on the roofs, on the temples, on the bridges,


all are desolate in Mantua now. Yet is it beautiful in
its loneliness, when the sunrise comes over the seas of
reeds, and the towers and the arches are reflected in
the pools and streams ; and yet again at night, when
the moon is high and the lagoons are as sheets of silver,
and the shadows come and go over the bulrushes and
St. Andrea lifts itself against the stars. Yes ; then it is
still Mantova la Gloriosa."

His voice dropped ; the tears came into his closing
eyes as though he looked on the dead face of a familiar

He felt the home sickness of the exile, of the wanderer
who knows not where to lay his head.

The glory was gone from the city.

Its greatness was but as a ghost that glided through
its deserted streets calling in vain on dead men to

The rough red sail of the fishing-boat was alone on
the waters once crowded with the silken sails of gilded
galleys ; the toad croaked and the stork made her nest
where the Lords of Gonzaga had gone forth to meet
their brides of Este or of Medici ; Virgil, Alboin, great
Karl, Otho, Petrarca, Ariosto, had passed by here over
this world of waters and become no more than dreams ;
and the vapours and the dust together had stolen the
smile from Giulio's Psyche, and the light from Man-
tegna's arabesques. On the vast walls the grass grew,
and in the palaces of princes the winds wandered and
the beggars slept. All was still, disarmed, lonely, for-
gotten ; left to a silence like the silence of the endless
night of death. Yet it was dear to him ; this sad and
stately city, waiting for the slow death of an unpitied and
lingering decay.

It was dear to him from habit, from birth, from
memory, from affinity, as the reeds of its stagnant
waters were dear to the sedcre-warbler that hung its


slender nest on the stem of a rush. A price was set
on his head ; and never more, he thought, would he
see the sunshine in ripples of gold come over the grey

"M"O one cared; the terrible, barren, acrid truth, that
science trumpets abroad as though it were some
new-found joy, touched her ignorance with its desolat-
ing despair. No one cared. Life was only sustained
by death. The harmless and lovely children of the air
and of the moor were given over, year after year,
century after century, to the bestial play and the fero-
cious appetites of men. The wondrous beauty of the
earth renewed itself only to be the scene of endless
suffering, of interminable torture. The human tyrant,
without pity, greedy as a child, more brutal than the
tiger in his cruelty, had all his way upon the innocent
races to which he begrudged a tuft of reeds, a palm's
breadth of moss or sand. The slaughter, the misery,
the injustice, renewed themselves as the greenness of
the world did. No one cared. There was no voice
upon the blood-stained waters. There was no rebuke
from the offended heavens. To all prayer or pain there
was eternal silence as the sole reply.

""THE uneducated are perhaps unjustly judged some-
times. To the ignorant both right and wrong
are only instincts ; when one remembers their piteous
and innocent confusion of ideas, the twilight of dim
comprehension in which they dwell, one feels that often-
times the laws of cultured men are too hard on them,
and that, in a better sense than that of injustice and
reproach, there ought indeed to be two laws for rich
a.nd poor.

/2V MAREMMA. 343

TT needs a great nature to bear the weight of a great


To a great nature it gives wings that bear it up to
heaven ; a lower nature feels it always as a clog that
impatiently is dragged only so long as force compels.

YV7HEN the thoughts of youth return, fresh as the
scent of new-gathered blossoms, to the tired old
age which has so long forgot them, the coming of
Death is seldom very distant.

""THE boat went through the waters swiftly, as the
wind blew more strongly ; the sandy shore with
its scrub of low-growing rock-rose and prickly Christ's
thorn did not change its landscape, but what she looked
at always was the sea ; the sea that in the light had
the smiling azure of a young child's eyes, and when the
clouds cast shadows on it, had the intense impenetrable
brilliancy of a jewel.

In the distance were puffs of white and grey, like
smoke or mist ; those mists were Corsica and Capraja.

Elba towered close at hand.

Gorgona lay far beyond, with all the other little isles
that seem made to shelter Miranda and Ariel, but of
Gorgona she knew nothing ; she was steering straight
towards it, but it was many a league distant on the
northerly water.

When she at last stopped her boat in its course she
was at the Sasso Scritto : a favourite resting-place with
her, where, on feast-days, when Joconda let her have
liberty from housework and rush-plaiting and spinning
of flax, she always came.

Northward, there was a long smooth level beach of
sand, and beyond that a lagoon where all the water-


birds that love both the sea and the marsh came in
large flocks, and spread their wings over the broad
spaces in which the salt water and the fresh were
mingled. Beyond this there were cliffs of the humid
red tufa, and the myrtle and the holy thorn grew down
their sides, and met in summer the fragrant hesperis of
the shore.

These cliffs were fine bold bluffs, and one of them
had been called from time immemorial the Sasso Scritto,
why, no one knew ; the only writing on it was done
by the hand of Nature. It was steep and lofty ; on its
summit were the ruins of an old fortress of the middle
ages ; its sides were clothed with myrtle, aloe, and
rosemary, and at its feet were boulders of marble, rose
and white in the sun ; rock pools, with exquisite net-
work of sunbeams crossing their rippling surface, and
filled with green ribbon-grasses and red sea-foliage, and
shining gleams of broken porphyry, and pieces of agate
and cornelian.

The yellow sands hereabouts were bright just now
with the sea-daffodil, and the sea-stocks, which would
blossom later, were pricking upward to the Lenten light ;
great clusters of southern-wood waved in the wind, and
the pungent sea-rush grew in long lines along the shore,
where the sand-piper was dropping her eggs, and the
blue-rock was carrying dry twigs and grass to his home
in the ruins above or the caverns beneath, and the
stock-doves in large companies were winging their way
over sea towards the Maritime or the Pennine Alps.

This was a place that Musa loved, and she would
come here and sit for hours, and watch the roseate
cloud of the returning flamingoes winging their way
from Sardinia, and the martins busy at their masonry
in the cliffs, and the Arctic longipennes going away
northward as the weather opened, and the stream-
swallows hunting early gnats and frogs on the water,


and the kingfisher digging his tortuous underground
home in the sand. Here she would lie for hours amongst
the rosemary, and make silent friendships with the popu-
lations of the air, while the sweet blue sky was above
her head, and the sea, as blue, stretched away till it
was lost in light.

Once up above, on these cliffs, the eye could sweep
over the sea north and south, and the soil was more
than ever scented with that fragrant and humble blue-
flowered shrub of which the English madrigals and
glees of the Stuart and Hanoverian poets so often speak,
and seem to smell. Behind the cliffs stretched moor-
land, marshes, woodland, intermingled, crossed by many
streams, holding many pools, blue-fringed in May with
iris, and osier beds, and vast fields of reeds, and breadths
of forest with dense thorny underwood, where all wild
birds came in their season, and where all was quiet save
for a bittern's cry, a boar's snort, a snipe's scream, on
the lands once crowded with the multitudes that gave
the eagle of Persia and the brazen trumpets of Lydia to
the legions of Rome.

Under their thickets of the prickly sloe-tree and the
sweet-smelling bay lay the winding ways of buried cities ;
their runlets of water rippled where kings and warriors
slept beneath the soil, and the yellow marsh lily, and
the purple and the rose of the wind-flower and the
pasque-flower, and the bright red of the Easter tulips, and
the white and the gold of the asphodels, and the colours
of a thousand other rarer and less homelike blossoms,
spread their innocent glory in their turn to the sky and
the breeze, above the sunken stones of courts and gates
and palaces and prisons.

These moors were almost as solitary as the deserts are.

Now and then against the blue of the sky and the
brown of the wood, there rose the shapes of shepherds
and their flocks ; now and then herds of young horses


went by, fleet and unconscious of their doom now and
then the sound of a rifle cracked the silence of the wind-
less air ; but these came but seldom.

Maremma is wide, and its people are scattered.

In autumn and in winter, hunters, shepherds, swine-
herds, sportsmen, birdcatchers, might spoil the solemn
peace of these moors, but in spring and summer no
human soul was seen upon them. The boar and the
buffalo, the flamingo and the roebuck, the great plover
and the woodcock, reigned alone.

'' "THEY say he sang too well, and that was why they

* burnt him," said Andreino to her to-day, after telling
her for the hundredth time of what he had seen once on
the Ligurian shore, far away yonder northward, when he,
who knew nothing of Adonais or Prometheus, had been
called, a stout seafaring man in that time, amongst other
peasants of the country-side, to help bring in the wood
for a funeral pyre by the sea.

He had known nought of the songs or the singer, but
he loved to tell the tale he had heard then ; and say how
he had seen, he himself, with his own eyes, the drowned
poet burn, far away yonder where the pines stood by the
sea, and how the flames had curled around the heart
that men had done their best to break, and how it had
remained unburnt in the midst, whilst all the rest drifted
in ashes down the wind. He knew nought of the Skylark's
ode, and nought of the Cor Cordium ; but the scene by
the seashore had burned itself as though with flame into
his mind, and he spoke of it a thousand times if once,
sitting by the edge of the sea that had killed the singer.

" Will they burn me if I sing too well ? " the child asked
him this day, the words of Joconda being with her.

" Oh, that is sure," said Andreino, half in jest and half
in earnest. " They burnt him because he sang better


than all of them. So they said. I do not know. I know
the resin ran out of the pinewood all golden and hissing
and his heart would not burn, all we could do. You are
a female thing, Musa; your heart will be the first to burn,
the first of all ! "

"Will it?" said Musa seriously, but not any way
alarmed, for the thought of that flaming pile by the
seashore by night was a familiar image to her.

"Ay, for sure ; you will be a woman !" said Andreino,
hammering into his boat.

'""THOUGH there is not a soul here, still sometimes

* they come Lucchese, Pistoiese, what not they
come as they go; they are a faithless lot; they love all
winter, and while the corn is in the ear it goes well, but
after harvest phew ! they put their gains in their
pockets and they are off and away back to their moun-
tains. There are broken hearts in Maremma when the,
threshing is done."

" Yes," said Musa again.

It was nothing to her, and she heeded but little.

" Yes, because men speak too lightly and women
hearken too quickly; that is how the mischief is born.
With the autumn the mountaineers come. They are
strong and bold ; they are ruddy and brown ; they work
all day, but in the long nights they dance and they sing ;
then the girl listens. She thinks it is all true, though it
has all been said before in his own hills to other ears
The winter nights are long, and the devil is always near;
when the corn goes down and the heat is come there is
another sad soul the more, another burden to carry, and
he he goes back to the mountains. What does he care ?
Only when he comes down into the plains again he goes
to another place to work, because men do not love women's
tears. That is how it goes in Maremma."


"CO the saints will pluck her to themselves at last,"
thought Joconda ; and the dreariness, the loveless-
ness, the hopelessness of such an existence did not occur
to her, because age, which has learned the solace and
sweetness of peace, never remembers that to youth peace
seems only stagnation, inanition, death.

The exhausted swimmer, reaching the land, falls prone
on it, and blesses it ; but the outgoing swimmer, full of
strength, spurns the land, and only loves the high-crested
wave, the abyss of the deep sea.

IMAGINATION without culture is crippled and moves
slowly ; but it can be pure imagination, and rich
also, as folk-lore will tell the vainest.

TT is this narrowness of the peasant mind which philo-
* sophers never fairly understand, and demagogues
understand but too well, and warp to their own selfish
purposes and profits.

"CLYING, the flamingoes are like a sunset cloud ; walk-
ing, they are like slender spirals of flame traversing
the curling foam. When one looks on them across black
lines of storm-blown weeds on a November morning in
the marshes, as their long throats twist in the air with
the flexile motion of the snake, the grace of a lily blown
by wind, one thinks of Thebes, of Babylon, of the gorge-
ous Persia of Xerxes, of the lascivious Egypt of the

The world has grown grey and joyless in the twilight
of age and fatigue, but these birds keep the colour of its
morning. Eos has kissed them.


'OR want of a word lives often drift apart.

l^AUSICAA, in the safe shelter of her father's halls,
* ' had never tended Odysseus with more serenity and
purity than the daughter of Saturnine tended his fellow-

The sanctity of the tombs lay on them, the dead were
so near ; neither profanity nor passion seemed to have
any place here in this mysterious twilight alive with the
memories of a vanished people. Her innocence was a
grand and noble thing, like any one of the largest white
lilies that rose up from the noxious mud of the marshes;
a cup of ivory wet with the dewdrops of dawn, blossoming
fair on fetid waters. And in him the languor of sickness
and of despair borrowed unconsciously for awhile the
liveries of chastity ; and he spoke no word, he made no
gesture, that would have scared from its original calm
the soul of this lonely creature, who succoured him with
so much courage and so much compassion that they
awed him with the sense of an eternal, infinite, and over-
whelming obligation. It needs a great nature to bear
the weight of a great gratitude.

To a great nature it gives wings that bear it up to
heaven ; a lower nature feels it always a clog that impa-
tiently is dragged only so long as force compels.

T T ER daily labours remained the same, but it seemed
to her as if she had the strength of those immortals
he told her she resembled. She felt as though she trod
on air, as though she drank the sunbeams and they gave
her force like wine ; she had no sense of fatigue ; she
might have had wings at her ankles, and nectar in her
veins. She was so happy, with that perfect happiness
which only comes where the world cannot enter, and the


free nature has lifted itself to the light, knowing nothing
of, and caring nothing for, the bonds of custom and of
prejudice with which men have paralysed and cramped
themselves, calling the lower the higher law.

""THE world was so far from her ; she knew not of it ; she
was a law to herself, and her whole duty seemed to
her set forth in one single word, perhaps the noblest word
in human language fidelity. When life is cast in soli-
tary places, filled with high passions, and led aloof from
men, the laws which are needful to curb the multitudes,
but yet are poor conventional foolish things at their
best, sink back into their true signification, and lose their
fictitious awe.

T\^ OREOVER, love is for ever measureless, and the
^ deepest and most passionate love is that which
survives the death of esteem.

Friendship needs to be rooted in respect, but love can
live upon itself alone. Love is born of a glance, a touch,
a murmur, a caress ; esteem cannot beget it, nor lack of
esteem slay it. Oitesti che mai da me non fia diviso,
shall be for ever its consolation amidst hell. One life
alone is beloved, is beautiful, is needful, is desired : one
life alone out of all the millions of earth. Though it fall,
err, betray, be mocked of others and forsaken by itself,
what does this matter ? This cannot alter love. The
more it is injured by itself, derided of men, abandoned
of God, the more will love still see that it has need of
love, and to the faithless will be faithful.


T T E stood mute and motionless awhile. Then as the
* truth was borne in on him, tears gushed from his
eyes like rain, and he laughed long, and laughed loud as
madmen do.

He never doubted her.

He sprang up the stone steps, and leapt into the open
air : into that light of day which he had been forbidden
to see so long.

To stand erect there, to look over the plains, to breathe,
and move, and gaze, and stretch his arms out to the
infinite spaces of the sea and sky this alone was so
intense a joy that he felt mad with it.

Never again to hide with the snake and the fox; never
again to tremble as his shadow went beside him on the
sand ; never to waste the sunlit hours hidden in the
bowels of the earth ; never to be afraid of every leaf that
stirred, of every bird that flew, of every moon-beam that
fell across his path ! he laughed and sobbed with the
ecstasy of his release.

" O God, Thou hast not forgotten ! " he cried in that
rapture of freedom.

All the old childish faiths that had been taught him by
dim old altars in stately Mantuan churches came back to
his memory and heart.

On the barren rock of Gorgona he had cursed and
blasphemed the Creator and creation of a world that was
hell ; he had been without hope : he had derided all the
faiths of his youth as illusions woven by devils to make
the disappointment of man the more bitter.

But now in the sweetness of his liberty, all the old
happy beliefs rushed back to him ; he saw Deity in the
smile of the seas, in the light upon the plains. He was
free !

HUE world has lost the secret of making labour a
^ joy ; but nature has given it to a few. Where the


maidens dance the Saltarello under the deep Sardinian
forests, and the honey and the grapes are gathered be-
neath the snowy sides of Etna, and the oxen walk up to
their loins in flowing grass where the long aisles of pines
grow down the Adrian shore, this wood-magic is known
still of the old simple charm of the pastoral life.

" P\OES it vex you that I am not a boy ?" said the girl
"^ " why should it vex you ? I can do all they can,
I can row better than many, and sail and steer ; I can
drive too, and I know what to do with the nets ; if I had
a boat of my own you would see what I could do."

"All that is very well," said Joconda with a little nod.
" I do not say it is not. But you have not a boat of your
own, that is just it ; that is what women always suffer
from ; they have to steer, but the craft is some one else's,
and the haul too."

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 24 of 39)