1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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You see their people over here now and then. They carry
red Bibles, and they go about with their mouths open to
catch flies, and they run into all the little old dusty
places ; you must have seen them."

" And why do we want to have anything to do with
them ? "

" They will come in ships and fire at us, if we are not
bigger and stronger than they. We must build iron houses
that float, and go on the sea and meet them."


" A NIMALISM," forsooth ! a more unfair word don't
** exist. When we animals never drink only just
enough to satisfy thirst, never eat except when we have
genuine appetites, never indulge in any sort of debauch,
and never strain excess till we sink into the slough of
satiety, shall "animalism" be a word to designate all
that men and women dare to do? "Animalism !'"' You
ought to blush for such a libel on our innocent and
reasonable lives when you regard your own ! You men
who scorch your throats with alcohols, and kill your lives
with absinthe ; and squander your gold in the Kursaal,
and the Cecle, and the Arlington and have thirty services
at your dinner betwixt soup and the " chasse ; " and can-
not spend a summer afternoon in comfort unless you be
drinking deep the intoxication of hazard in your debts
and your bets on the Heath or the Downs, at Hurlingham
or at Tattersalls' Rooms. You women, who sell your
souls for bits of stones dug from the bowels of the earth ;
who stake your honour for a length of lace two centuries
old ; who replace the bloom your passions have banished
with the red of poisoned pigments ; who wreathe your
aching heads with purchased tresses torn from prisons,
and madhouses, and coffins ; who spend your lives in
one incessant struggle, first trie rivalry of vanity and then
the rivalry of ambition ; who deck out greed, and selfish-


ness, and worship of station or gold, as "love," and then
wonder that your hapless dupes, seizing the idol that you
offer them as worthy of their worship, fling it from them
with a curse, finding it dumb, and deaf, and merciless, a
thing of wood and stone.

"Animalism," forsooth ! God knows it would be well
for you, here and hereafter, men and women both, were
you only patient, continent, and singleminded, only
faithful, gentle, and longsuffering, as are the brutes that
you mock, and misuse, and vilify in the supreme blindness
of your egregious vanity !

T WAS horribly cold and hungry ; and this is a combi-
nation which kills sentiment in bigger people than
myself. The emotions, like a hothouse flower or a sea-
dianthus, wither curiously when aired in an east wind, or
kept some hours waiting for dinner.

TN truth, too, despite all the fine chances that you cer-
* tainly give your peasants to make thorough beasts of
themselves, they are your real aristocrats, and have the
only really good manners in your country. In an old
north-country dame, who lives on five shillings a week,
in a cottage like a dream of Teniers' or Van Tol's, I have
seen a fine courtesy, a simple desire to lay her best at
her guest's disposal, a perfect composure, and a freedom
from all effort, that were in their way the perfection of
breeding. I have seen these often in the peasantry, in
the poor. It is your middle classes, with their incessant
flutter, and bluster, and twitter, and twaddle ; with their
perpetual strain after effect ; with their deathless desire
to get one rung of the ladder higher than they ever can
get ; with their preposterous affectation?, their pedantic

PUCK. 117

unrenlities, their morbid dread of remark, their everlasting
imitations, their superficial education, their monotonous
commonplaces, and their nervous deference to opinion ;
it is your middle classes that have utterly destroyed good
manners, and have made the prevalent mode of the day
a union of boorishness and servility, of effervescence and
of apathy a court suit, as it were, worn with muddy boots
and a hempen shirt.

T THINK Fanfreluche spoke with reason. Coinci-
dence is a god that greatly influences mortal affairs-
He is not a cross-tempered deity either, always ; and
when you beat your poor fetish for what seems to you an
untoward accident, you may do wrong ; he may have
benefited you far more than you wot.

"jV^ OW I believe that when a woman's own fair skin is
*^ called rouge, and her own old lace is called imita-
tion, she must in some way or other have roused sharply
the conscience or the envy of her sisters who sit in judg-

T CANNA go to church. Look'ee, they's allus a read-
* in' o' cusses, and damnin', and hell fire, and the like ;
and I canna stomach it. What for shall they go and say
as all the poor old wimmin i' tha parish is gone to the
deil 'cause they picks up a stick or tew i' hedge, or likes
to mumble a charm or tew o'er their churnin'? Them
old wimmin be rare an' good i' ither things. When I
broke my ankle three years agone, old Dame Stuckley
kem o'er, i' tha hail and the snaw, a matter of five mile
and more, and she turned o' eighty ; and she nursed me,


and tidied the place, and did all as was wanted to be
done, 'cause Avice was away, working somewhere's ; and
she'd never let me gie her aught for it. And I heard ta
passon tell her as she were sold to hell, 'cause the old
soul have a bit of belief like in witch-stones, and allus
sets one aside her spinnin' jenny, so that the thrid shanna
knot nor break. Ta passon he said, God cud mak tha
thrid run smooth, or knot it, just as He chose, and 'twas
wicked to think she could cross His will. And the old
dame, she said, Weel, sir, I dinna b'lieve tha Almighty
would ever spite a poor old crittur like me, don't 'ee
think it ? But if we're no to help oursells i' this world,
what for have He gied us the trouble o' tha thrid to spin 1
and why no han't He made tha shirts, an' tha sheets, an'
tha hose grow theersells ? And ta passon niver answered
her that, he only said she was fractious and blas-^^-mous.
Now she warn't, she spoke i' all innocence, and she mint
what she said she mint it. Passons niver can answer
ye plain, right-down, nataral questions like this'n, and
that's why I wunna ga ta tha church.

"T\INNA ye meddle, Tarn ; it's niver no good a threshin'
*~* other folk's corn ; ye allays gits the flail agin i' yer
own eye somehow.

HP HE flowers hang in the sunshine, and blow in the
* breeze, free to the wasp as to the bee. The bee
chooses to make his store of honey, that is sweet, and
fragrant, and life-giving ; the wasp chooses to make his
from the same blossoms, but of a matter'hard, and bitter,
and useless. Shall we pity the wasp because, of his sel-
fish passions, he selects the portion that shall be luscious
only to his own lips, and spends his hours only in the

PUCK. 119

thrusting-in of his sting? Is not such pity wasted upon
the wasp an insult to the bee who toils so wearily to
gather in for others ; and who, because he stings not
man, is by man maltreated ? Now it seems to me, if I
read them aright, that vicious women, and women that
are of honesty and honour, are much akin to the wasp
and to the bee.

~\A Y dear, a gentleman may forget his appointments,
*'-* his love vows, and his political pledges ; he may
forget the nonsense he talked, the dances he engaged for,
the women that worried him, the electors that bullied
him, the wife that married him, and he may be a gentle-
man still ; but there are two things he must never forget,
for no gentleman ever does and they are, to pay a debt
that is a debt of honour, and to keep a promise to a crea-
ture that can't force him to keep it.

A GENIUS? You must mistake. I have always
** heard that a genius is something that they beat to
death first with sticks and stones, and set up on a great
rock to worship afterwards. Now they make her very
happy whilst she is alive. She cannot possibly be a

T LEARNED many wondrous things betwixt Epsom
and Ascot. A brief space, indeed, yet one that to me
seemed longer than the whole of my previous life, so
crowded was it every hour with new and marvellous
experiences. Worldly experiences, I mean. Intellec-
tually, I am not sure that I acquired much.

Indeed, to a little brain teeming with memories of the
Theatres Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Moliere, Feuillet, Sar-


dou, Sandeau, &c., which I had heard read so continually
at the Dower-House amongst the Fens, the views of
dramatic literature held at the Coronet appeared of the
most extraordinary character. They certainly had one
merit simplicity.

The verb "to steal" was the only one that a successful
dramatic author appeared to be required to conjugate.

For your music steal from the music-halls ; for your
costumes steal from Le Follet; for your ideas steal from
anybody that happens to carry such a thing about him ;
for your play, in its entirety, steal the plot, the characters,
the romance, the speeches, and the wit, if it have any, of
some attractive novel ; and when you have made up your
parcel of thefts, tie it together with some string of stage
directions, herald it as entirely original, give a very good
supper to your friends on the press, and bow from your
box as the "Author."

You will certainly be successful : and if the novelist
ever object, threaten him with an action for interference
with your property.

These I found were the laws laid down by London
dramatists ; and they assuredly were so easy to follow
and so productive to obey, that if any Ben Jonson or
Beaumarchais, Sheridan or Marivaux, had arisen and
attempted to infringe them, he would have infallibly been
regarded as a very evil example, and been extinguished
by means of journalistic slating and stall-siflage.

"D Y the way, permit me, in parenthesis, to say that one
*-' of the chief causes of that preference for the demi-
monde which you daily and hourly discover more and
more, is the indulgence it shows to idleness. Because
your lives are so intense now, and always at high pressure
for that very reason are you more indolent also in little
things. It bores you to dress ; it bores you to talk ; it

PUCK. 121

bores you to be polite. Sir Charles Grandison might
find ecstasy in elaborating a bow, a wig, or a speech ;
you like to give a little nod, cut your hair very short, and
make " awfully " do duty for all your adjectives.

" Atitres temps, autres mcsurs" You are a very odd
mixture. You will go to the ends of the earth on the
scent of big game ; but you shirk all social exertion with
a cynical laziness. You will come from Damascus at a
stretch without sleeping, and think nothing of it ; but you
find it a wretched thing to have to exert yourself to be
courteous in a drawing-room.

Therefore the demi-monde suits you with a curious
fitness, and suits you more and more every year, I am
afraid it is not very good for you. I don't mean for your
morals ; I don't care the least about them, I am a dog of
the world ; I mean for your manners. It makes you
slangy, inert, rude, lazy. And yet what perfect gentle-
men you can be still, and what grace there is in your
careless, weary ease, when you choose to be courteous ;
and you always do choose, that I must say for you, when
you find a woman who is really worth the trouble.

T NEVER knew quite whether I liked her how can
you with those women of the world ? She was kind
and insincere ; she was gentle and she was cruel ; she
was generous and ungenerous ; she was true as steel,
and she was false as Judas what would you ? she was
a woman of the world, with several sweet natural impulses,
and all a coquette's diplomacies.

She tended me with the greatest solicitude one day that
autumn, when I had run a thorn into my foot : and the
very next day, when I was well again, she laughed to see
me worried on the lawn by a bull-terrier. If you have
not met a woman like that, I wonder where you have


"V^OU must be spider or fly, as somebody says. Now
* all my experience tells me that men are mostly the
big, good-natured, careless blue-bottles, half-drunk with
their honey of pleasure, and rushing blindly into any web
that dazzles them a little in the sunshine ; and women
are the dainty, painted, patient spiders that just sit and
weave, and weave, and weave, till pong ! Bluebottle is
in head foremost, and is killed, and sucked dry, and eaten
up at leisure.

You men think women do not know much of life.
Pooh ! I, Puck, who have dwelt for many of my days on
their boudoir cushions, and eaten of their dainty little
dinners, and been smuggled under their robes even into
operas, balls, and churches, tell you that is an utter
fallacy. They do not choose you to know that they know
it, very probably ; but there is nothing that is hidden
from them, I promise you.

"TVON'T you know that whilst broad, intellectual scep-
^ ticism is masculine, narrow, social scepticism is
feminine ? To get hearty, reverent, genuine belief in the
innocence of a slandered woman, go to a man : where the
world has once doubted, women, the world-worshippers,
will for ever after doubt also. You can never bring women
to see that the pecked-at fruit is always the richest and
sweetest ; they always take the benison of the wooing
bird to be the malison of the hidden worm !

TVTOT very long ago I was down away in the vale of
* ^ Belvoir. I stayed with my friends at a great stately
place, owned by as gallant a gentleman as ever swung

PUCK. 123

himself into saddle. His wife was a beautiful woman,
and he treated her with the courtliest tenderness : indeed,
I often heard their union cited as one of almost unequalled
felicity. <: He never had a thought that he did not tell
me," I heard his wife once say to a friend. " Not n single
thought, I know, all these twelve years of our marriage."
It was a happy belief many women have the like but
it was an unutterably foolish one ; for the minds of the
best and truest amongst you are, in many things, as sealed
books to those whom you care for the most.

One bitter, black hunting-day, a day keen and cold,
with frost, as men feared, in the air, and with the ground
so hard that even the Duke's peerless " dandies/' perfect
hounds though they are, scarcely could keep the scent,
there came terrible tidings to the Hall he had met with
a crashing fall. His horse had refused at timber, and
had fallen upon him, kicking his head with the hind hoofs
repeatedly. They had taken him to the nearest farm-
house, insensible ; even dead already, they feared. His
wife and the elder amongst the beautiful children fled
like mad creatures across the brown fallows, and the
drear blackened meadows. The farm, happily, was not
far : I sped with them.

When they reached him he was not quite lifeless, but
he knew none of them ; his head had been beaten in by
the plates of the kicking hoofs ; and they waited for his
death with every moment, in the little old dusky room,
with its leaded lattices, and its odour of dried lavender,
and its bough of holly above the hearth. For this had
chanced upon Christmas Eve.

To his wife's agonies, to his children's moans, he was
silent : he knew nothing ; he lay with closed eyes and
crushed brain- deaf, blind, mute. Suddenly the eyes
opened, and stared at the red winter sun where it glowed
dimly through the squares of the lattice-panes. "Dolores!"


he cried aloud ; "Dolores ! Dolores !" It was the name
of none there.

"My God! What woman is it he calls?" his wife
asked in her torture. But none ever knew. Through half
the night his faint pulse beat, his faint breath came and
went ; but consciousness never more returned, and for
ever he muttered only that one name, that name which
was not her own. And when they laid the dead body in
its shroud, they found on the left arm above the elbow
the word " Dolores" marked on the skin, as sailors stamp
letters in their flesh. But whose it was, or what woe or
passion it recorded, none ever knew not even his wife,
who had believed she shared his every thought. And to
his grave his dead and secret love went with him.

This man was but a gay, frank, high-spirited gentle-
man, of no great knowledge, and of no great attainments,
riding fearlessly, laughing joyously, living liberally; not
a man, one would have said, to know any deep passions,
to treasure any bitter memories and yet he had loved
one woman so well that he had never spoken of her, and
never forgotten her ; never not even in his death-hour,
when the poor, stunned, stifled brain had forgotten all
other things of earth.

And so it seems to me that it is very often with you, and
that you bear with you through your lifetime the brand
of an unforgotten name, branded deep in, in days of pas-
sion, that none around you ever wot of, and that the wife
who sleeps on your heart never knows.

It is dead the old love long dend. And yet, when
your last hour shall come, and your senses shall be dizzy
with death, the pale loves of the troth and the hearth will
fade from you, and this love alone will abide.

PUCK. 125

" IVf ODERN painters do not owe you much, sir," said

** a youngster to him once, writhing under the

Midas' ruthless flagellation of his first Academy picture.

" On the contrary," said the great censor, taking his

snuff; "they owe me much, or might have owed me

much. If they had only listened to me, they would

have saved every shilling that they have thrown away


on canvas I

TN your clubs and your camps, in your mischievous
moods and your philosophic moods, always indeed
theoretically, you consider all women immoral (except just,
of course, your own mothers) ; but practically, when your
good-feeling is awakened, or your honest faith honestly
appealed to, you will believe in a woman's honour with a
heartiness and strength for which she will look in vain in
her own sex. According to your jests, the world is one
vast harem, of which all the doors are open to every man,
and whose fair inmates are all alike impressionable to the
charm of intrigue or to the chink of gold. But, in simple
earnest and reality, I have heard the wildest and most
debonair amongst you once convinced of the, honour
and innocence looking from a woman's eyes stand up
in defence of these when libelled in her absence, with a
zeal and a stanchness that did my heart good.

T T IS simple creed, "the good faith of a gentleman,"
forbade him to injure what lay defenceless at his

Ah ! revile that old faith as you will, it has lasted longer
than any other cultus ; and whilst altars have reeled, and
idols been shattered, and priests changed their teachings,
and peoples altered their gods, the old faith has lasted


through all ; and the simple instinct of the Greek eupatrid
and of the Roman patrician still moves the heart of the
English gentleman the instinct of Noblesse oblige.

'""THE exception proves the rule," runs your proverb ;
* but why, I wonder, is it that you always only
believe in the rule, and are always utterly sceptical as
to the existence of the exception ?

""THE sun shone in over the roofs ; the bird in its cage
* began a low tremulous song ; the murmur of all
the crowded streets came up upon the silence ; and Nellie
lay there dead ; the light upon her curly hair, and on
her mouth the smile that had come there at his touch.

"Ah, my dear !" said Fanfreluche, as she ceased her
story, with a half-soft and half-sardonic sadness, "she
was but a little, ignorant, common player, who made but
three pounds a week, and who talked the slang of the
streets, and who thought shrimps and tea a meal for the
gods, and who made up her own dresses with her own
hands, otit of tinsel and tarlatanes and trumperies, and
who knew no better than to follow the blind, dumb in-
stincts of good that, self-sown and uncultured, lived in
her God knows how ! as the harebells, with the dew on
them, will live amidst the rank, coarse grass of grave-
yards. She was but a poor little player, who tried to be
honest where all was corruption, who tried to walk
straightly where all ways were crooked. So she died
to-day in a garret, my dear."

T F all men in whose hearts lives a dull, abiding grief,

whose throbs death and death only ever will still,

deserted for desert or ocean your world of fame and of

PUCK. 127

fashion, how strangely that world would look ! How
much eloquence would be dumb in your senatorial
chambers ; how many a smile would be missing from
your ball-rooms and hunting-fields ; how many a frank
laugh would die off for ever from your ear ; how many a
well-known face would vanish from your clubs, from your
park, from your dinner-tables, from your race-stands !

And how seldom would it be those that you had pitied
who would go ! how often would the vacant place be
that place where so many seasons through you had seen,
and had envied, the gayest, the coldest, the most light-
hearted, the most cynical amongst you !

Ah ! let Society be thankful that men in their bitter-
ness do not now fly, as of old, to monastery or to her-
mitage ; for, did they do so, Society would send forth her
gilded cards to the wilderness.

" T TNE vie manqutel" says the world.

Is there any threnody over a death half so unut-
terably sad as that one jest over a life?

" Manqute I " the world has no mercy on a hand that
has thrown the die and has lost ; no tolerance for the
player who, holding fine cards, will not play them by the
rules of the game. "Manfnttet* the world says, with a
polite sneer, of the lives in which it beholds no blazoned
achievement, no public success.

And yet, if it were keener of sight, it might see that
those lives, not seldom, may seem to have missed of their
mark, because their aim was high over the heads of the
multitude ; or because the arrow was sped by too eager
a hand in too rash a youth, and the bow lies unstrung in
that hand when matured. It might see that those lives
which look so lost, so purposeless, so barren of attain-
ment, so devoid of object or fruition, have sometimes


nobler deeds in them and purer sacrifice than lies in the
home-range of its own narrowed vision. " Manqitee /"
do not cast that stone idly : how shall you tell, as you
look on the course of a life that seems to you a failure,
because you do not hear its "/? triumphe" on the lips of
a crowd, what sweet dead dreams, what noble vain desires,
what weariness of futile longing, what conscious waste of
vanished years nay, what silent acts of pure nobility,
what secret treasures of unfathomed love may lie within
that which seems in your sight even as a waste land un-
tilled, as a fire burnt out, as a harp without chords, as a
bird without songr?

is oftentimes but a poor fool, who, clinging
* to a thing that belongs to no age, Truth, does often-
times live on a pittance and die in a hospital ; but who-
soever has the gift to measure aright their generation. is
invincible living, they shall enjoy all the vices unde-
tected ; and dead, on their tombstones they shall possess
all the virtues.

, naked, is honoured throughout England. Cant,
clothed in gold, is a king never in England resisted.

" F> EN DARE, he be dead ?" he asked suddenly. " They
*-* telled me so by Barren's side." *
Ambrose bent his head, silently.
"When wur't?"

" Last simmar-time, i' th' aftermath."
" It were a ston' as killed him ? "
"Ay," said Ambrose, softly shading his eyes with his

* The river Derwent.

PUCK. 129

hand from the sun that streamed through the aisles of

"How wur't?"

"They was a blastin'. He'd allus thoct as he'd dee
that way, you know. They pit mair pooder i' quarry than
common ; and the ston' it split, and roared, and crackit,
wi' a noise like tha crack o' doom. And one bit on 't,
big as ox, were shot i' th' air, an' fell, unlookit for like,
and dang him tew the groun', and crushit him, a-lyin'
richt athwart his brist."

"An' they couldna stir it?"

" They couldna. I heerd tha other min screech richt
tew here, an' I knew what it wur, tha shrill screech comin'
jist i' top o' tha blastin' roar ; an' I ran, an' ran na gaze-
hound fleeter. An' we couldna raise it me an' Tam, an'
Job, an' Gideon o' the Mere, an' Moses Legh o' Wissen
Edge, a j strong min and i' our prime. We couldna stir
it, till Moses o' Wissen Edge he thoct o' pittin' fir-poles
underneath poles as was sharp an' slim i' thur ends, an'
stout an' hard further down. Whin tha poles was weel

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 9 of 39)