1839-1908 Ouida.

Ouida, illustrated (Volume 6) online

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take you away from me the other clay ? "

Viva grew very pale; but she gave an honest answer.

" He says you are very wicked, and he would rather see me dead than like

Coriolis laughed aloud; a silvery musical laughter, happy as a child's.
" He is complimentary your friend ! Well ! do you believe him ? "
1 ought," murmured Viva, wistfully and piteously. ' Hut I cannot ! I
think you are an a;

iolis laughed afresh: the ingenuous simplicity of reply did not touch her
to pity, merely to amusement.

Phink 10 if you like," she said, "and I will be your good angel.

ittle one, I was in earnest when I offend to help you to a I ran


make you the fashion in a night, and I will do it if you have any sense, and
are any way tractable. You have a splendid head I tell you so I was not
handsomer myself, I verily believe. A creature. with a face like yours can
always have the world at her feet. But not if she be shut up in a garret where
no eyes, see her. One may as well be a sparrow as a kingfisher, if one never
glitters in the sun under men's sight. You are a kingfisher. Well, come and
fly in the light, do not mope in a wicker cage. I will take you with me, and
show you my world, come ! "

Viva, white to her lips, and trembling sorely, looked up with appealing eyes.

" Do not ask me, do not ask me ! " she cried piteously. " He says he will
never share me with you, that he will never look on me again if I go with you!
I would give all the world if I had it, to come but I dare not grieve him; I
dare not ! "

" Pooh ! " cried the comedian. " What are women made for but to plague
the souls of -men ? It is our empire, that of course he likes to keep you in
prison, all jailers love power."

Viva shook her head.

" Oh no, no ! You do not know him; he is so good, so generous, so gentle.
He would never tell me anything but for my happiness. He fears you because
he thinks you are so wicked, and he says that you broke that poor sailor's
heart with your cruelty."

Coriolis set her delicate teeth, and a slight flush heightened the bloom of
art on her cheeks; but she smiled with amused negligence, and took the means
which she saw would be the surest to blind the child's instinct of right.

"Your friend calumniates me: a very general crime. It is the penalty we
pay for our eminence," she answered. " Sailors! have I aught to do with com-
mon seamen ? He errs strangely: but we will show him his error. Come you
only with me, just for these next few hours, and I will make a princess of
you. He shall see you on the throne of the world; for is not the applause
of all Paris that ? and he will thank me, and worship me as your best friend.
Look you, little lady; he is poor, this Tricotrin of yours; you are a great tax
upon him, you are a burden that serves him in nothing. Have you ever
thought of that ? "

" Never ! " her head drooped, the remembrance was a deadly blow to her

" But it is the truth nevertheless. Now, if you will trust me, I will make
you great, applauded, courted, powerful, above all, independent. And what is
there so sweet as independence ? To go where one will, to do as one chooses,
to have to ask naught except one's own fancy, to scatter money where and when
and how one pleases ! Ah, try that ! you will never endure dependence after
it. You have a proud face: how can you bear to eat the bread of charity?"


The child was stung to the quick; the merciful hand that had saved and
sheltered and succored her, looked now like a glove of iron, whose clasp
her blond.

: iolis saw the pain that she inflicted, hut she was pitiless to it.

" You are nothing but a young pariah, a young pauper now," she continued.
" If you will come with me we will change all that. You will leap at a bound
into your proper sphere; you will become rich as well as famous; think then
how you can repay this man whom you love, whereas now you are only a

Jit. an expense, an onus upon him. Have you remembered all this?
Come ! just to see for two hours what my empire, what my world, are like.
You shall return at nightfall: 1 will send you home; and I will take care that
he hears at once that you are with me, I know where he is, and he will be
too just, I trust, when he sees my desire to serve you, to continue to think such
false and such evil things of me."

"Oh, yes ! I know well that he would, if he would but believe !" sighed
Viva; and a beautiful vision arose before her, of her idol purified in the sij
her friend, cleansed of calumny, and beloved by him as well by herself, in all
the radiance of that new world for which she pined. It was a child's vision, all
glorious with colors never seen upon earth, generous with all the fanaticism and
chivalry of youth, vain and self-Confident with all youth's headstrong bigotry
and ignorance. Every warning had died out from her remembnii:< < . c'oriolis
was in her belief at once the noblest empress, and the noblest martyr, that the
world could hold.

You shall make him believe," said her temptress, indifferent what she
averred, so that she became successful in her caprice of divorcing from th-
who had offended her, and aroused her hatred, the only creature that wn
to him. " Come with me, at least for an hour or so ? You are no baby, that
you must have no will of your own. You are old enough to act for yourself;
and you must act if ever you desire to be great. The years are few that a
woman reigns: she cannot afford to waste one. Come with me; and you shall
see what my life is like. I will give you a glimpse of it to-night. I will
metamorphose you into a young sovereign, you are nothing now but a little
;t. You want costume, jewels, lace, trailing skirts, everything! All
embellishments are to a creature like you, as its gold setting is to an
emerald. Without them you may be a gem indeed, but you are unpolished,
and will glitter in no regalia. Come ! you cannot be afraid ? You look brave
Ji to take your own way, and adhere to it. If you listen to him you will
your whole life in an attic like the one that impri-
will i clowns on a farm, or some boors in a t.

you will i. anything better than linen an : you will alw.<

on foot and have others splash you with the mud of their chariot \\


will always sit at your lattice window to see the world's processions pass by
without you; you will always be obscure, obscure like a wretched mole under
a tree, when with one effort of will, one touch of sense, you might have changed
all that, and been as great as I am. Only think, little fool, only think what
it is that you do ! "

Viva's color had changed many times during the utterance of the actress's
conjuration; her breath came and went rapidly; her whole form was tremulous
with emotion and desire. " To be obscure ! " It was the one hell that she
dreaded. " To be great ! " It was the one heaven that she craved. To be one
of those who " sat at their lattices " in the quietude of an humble home, while
the great pageantry of life swept on below her window with no place in its
carnival crowds for her, no voice of hers in its laughter, no banner amid
its proud standards upheld by her hand, was the future that she feared with a
passionate terror the terror of inborn ambition, of predominant vanity.

With a single bound her foot was on the carnage steps, her hand upon the
carriage cushions.

" I will come ! " she cried, breathlessly; shame was on her, and all the con-
sciousness of sin against the one to whom her lifelong allegiance, and her
uttermost sacrifice were due. She felt the burning horror of some great wicked-
ness consume her, she knew that she wronged him in his absence a crime and
a cowardice in one. But the temptress prevailed with her; the desire for the
unknown conquered her; her idolatry of this one forbidden thing was stronger
with her than all ties of gratitude.

" I will come ! " she cried; while in her ear there seemed to sound the words
that he had spoken: " Share your life with that wanton, I will not."

" That is right, that is wise," said Coriolis, with a smile, as she drew her up
into the carriage. " You are a baby no longer; you have a woman's divine
right Self-Will."

Viva did not hear; her eyes felt blind, her senses grew dizzy, her ears had
a singing sound in them. She could have sobbed aloud with remorse, and fear,
and contrition; but the guilty joy of victorious rebellion, the guilty sweetness
of unlawful longing near to its fruition, the guilty liberty of self-emancipation,
were in her veins, and there was too much in her of the leaven of Eve for her
not to deliver herself up to their usurpation. She knew herself treacherous,
faithless, cowardly; but curiosity, vanity, and the desire of pleasure conquered
her conscience. She elected, as millions wiser have chosen, to turn her face
aside from duty, and follow where her sorceress led.

The equipage dashed off with her; and if conscience spoke, it could not be
heard in the noise of the (lashing, whirling, azure wheels, that swept her down
white roads, and under green avenues through the gold and bronze gates of
the actress's villa.


Coriolis was not without her kind impulses; she was of a sunny temper, and
could be generous when to be so did not interfere with her own supreme selfish-
ness. The rapt adoring face of the child had attracted her, and she had felt
a fancy to see it closer. But beside these she had motives less innocent: one,
on whom her own charms had palled, but whose contentment and patronage
were essential to her, had also seen that " flower-like face " under its scarlet
hood, and had bade her let him see it once more, and more closely. And
Coriolis was one of those women who own but one cultus and one passion
those of gold.

Viva's heart was beating at fever heat as she followed her enchantress
through the exquisite miniature palace, in which the stage-sovereign reigned.
The knowledge of her own sin in coming thither, her terror for the rebuke her
flight would draw down on her head, the sharp stinging sense of a criminal
action that seemed to prick her like an iron goad, served yet, in some fashion,
to render her ecstasy in her own transgression wilder, and sweeter, and stronger.
She had done very wrong, she knew that; but she had rushed forth into perilous
liberty; she had seized the forbidden fruit; she had entered into the unknown
land; she had too much of the spirit of Eve in her not to take delight in her
daring deed. Moreover, glancing around on all the luxurious beauty that
blinded her, she thought: "She was unknown and penniless once, they say;
why should I not become like her, too ? "

In this lay Coriolis's charm for her: that the actress was to her the incar-
nation of all that may be accomplished by the force of beauty alone, against
every antagonism of origin and of circumstance. And of the price at which
such accomplishment was attained, Viva knew nothing.

" Come in hither," said Coriolis, leading her into the daintiest of dressing-
chambers, that made the child think of an empty bird's-nest she had once
seen in an elder bush, all silvered over with glistening hoar-frost inside
and out.

" Let us look at you," pursued her hostess; and she remorselessly pulled off
the red cloak, and shook down all Viva's hair, talking in a pleasant little mur-
mur like a singing-mouse all the while herself. Coriolis was a woman without
any sort of mind; she was almost as absolutely brainless as any parroquet; but
she knew human weaknesses well, and she knew how to flatter them; and those
rms of knowledge suffice to conquer a child. They suffice, many times,
to vanquish a man.

" Have you sent to tell him, madame ?" asked Viva, a pang of conscience
stirring amid the bliss of her intoxicated vanity.

- Your friend ! oh yes," said Coriolis; anil Viva did not know that the daily
bread of such women as this lies in falsehood.

Coriolis asked her all her history, and Viva told it; the sense of shame at


her costume, and her homely dwelling, striving with her own conviction that
she belonged to some lineage of special though hidden splendor.

Coriolis heard and laughed.

" Ah, ha ! It is always out of such as you that women like me are made."

" Is it ? " asked the child, breathless with hope and joy, unwitting the fright-
ful truth that lay in the words.

" Is it ? Of course it is ! " cried her temptress. " The world is against us
as we start, and we have our revenge; we trap it, and strip it, and make it our
laughing-stock and our golden granary both in one. You do not understand ?
Pooh, little one ! You will learn all this fast enough. Oh, life is a pleasant
thing ! you may believe that. Look here ! since I since I came on the
stage, have I not lived like an empress, and eaten like a Strasburg duck, and
dressed like a fashion-plate, and had jewels that outshone the duchess's dia-
monds, and seen all the world turn after me as I drove or as I walked ? To be
sure ! It is hard work at first, perhaps; but not for a beautiful woman. I am
beautiful; you will be so. When a woman can look at her face in the mirror,
and say honestly, ' I am handsomer than one in a million,' it is as good for her
as if she said, ' I am born to a crown.' Better, indeed because it is a much
gayer time that waits for her. Do you see ? "

"Yes," said Viva, drinking the poison in as though it were the water of life.

Coriolis believed what she said. To a creature without soul and brain, the
lusts of the flesh, and the joys of the palate, and of the vanity, are all in all.

Coriolis was honest; she enjoyed.

" Stay an instant, and you shall behold yourself as you will be," she pursued,
as she threw open the door of one of her cabinets, and pulled out laces, and
silks, and velvets, and gems, till the girl's eyes were dazzled.

Viva felt none of the prescience which usually awakes in innocence that is
brought into the presence of vice. There was nothing of warning mingled
with the allurements exercised over her. She had no idea of aught of evil or
of danger in her sorceress; she saw an exquisite thing with a cherub's face,
and the power, it seemed to her, of a magician; and every one of Coriolis's
movements fascinated her with a sense of wonder, attraction, and delight.

" As this woman was, she might herself be one day ! " this was the one
thought that enchained her.

Laughing, and keeping up her silvery, mirthful babble that was like the
ring of sleigh-bells over snow, Coriolis, who had much of the infant in her and
much of the fool, and who had as many caprices as a spoiled marmoset,
loosened and tossed aside with disdain Viva's white linen dress, and threw over
her one of her own costly trailing robes, and all the fantasy of a jewelled court
costume. Her hands were quick and agile at such transformation; and she
changed her in fifty seconds from a little picturesque bohemian to a magnifi-


cent young beauty; while gazing at the alteration in the long mirrors that
fronted her. Viva touched herself to know if she were awake, and gazed, with
parted lips and throbbing temples, at her own apparition.

There ! " cried Coriolis, laughing more and more. " Look there ! See
what Dress the god and the devil of women can do for you. Dress dress !
Why, child, your beauty, without the aid of costume, is nothing better than the
pearl before it leaves the oyster-shell. Will you go back to your shell, you
pretty pearl ? Not if I know aught of your heart."

Viva made her no answer. All the self-love of Narcissus held her entranced.

1 am as beautiful as you !" she cried, at last, aloud, in ecstasy, throwing
her anus above her head.

>lis turned away, with a cloud for once over her smiling azure <

" More so ! " she said, shortly, with the impulses of frankness at times
natural to her. " More so ! You have what 1 have lost ! "

Viva did not ask what this was; she did not enquire at the price of what
loss this celebrity, and this wealth that she coveted, had been acquired. She-
was absorbed in contemplation of herself. The actress looked at her, and
smiled; her own passing emotions hail swiftly vanished.

How it runs through us all ! " she cried. " With all the love one has, one

ioves anything like one's self ! What a supreme joy it is that knowing

one's self fair ! But there is a still greater joy than that: it is to hear the

world say so. Do you see, you charming bagatelle, how happy you are? you

are beautiful ! You can scoff at all the Caesars; their power is nothing to

yours. To be handsome while one lives, and to die before any of that

it" one can do this, one can laugh at all the priests and all the

1 she laughed yet again, and Viva joined in her laugh. The airy
,sm suited the child's temper, and Coriolis was that most per-
yti/ers a disciple who believed implicitly in the doctrines she incur
fair all her years through, and to die before any of that" waned and
withered, was to Coriolis the perfection of human existence; and the only
of dread that ever weighed on this careless, thoughtless, mindless, shan
thing, was the terror that the day should ever come when she should dash her
hand through her mirror in despair at the lustreless eyes, and the lined brow,
and the dulled tresses it should give back to her vision.

he heard.

Aii ! " the murmured, "it I could only have ten years of a life like yours
I should -it ! "

T.i resign it? v Little one, when we have tasted triumph we

00 a fruit of Olympus, that makes all mortal food flavorless, and
leaves us with a cruel < .;>petite, never still ! "


Coriolis had heard a poet say this: and used the answer, as one picturesque
and likely to be persuasive to this young listener and tyro.

" What matter ! " cried Viva, in the magnificent recklessness of ignorance.
" I would rather taste it once and hunger forever, than never know its flavor all
the days of my life ! "

Coriolis, with a curious fancy for this daring, vain, lovely creature, who
made her think of her own childhood, laid both hands on Viva's shoulder, and
looked at her with a gaze that was more earnest than her volatile, sparkling,
wandering eyes had ever given.

" Are you too good for it ? " she murmured to herself. " No. Not a whit.
You are just what I was; cleverer perhaps, and of more wit, but just like me.
You would only break an honest man's heart, if you were to begin with one: it
is better to commence as you will end, with pillaging fools and knaves. Pooh !
you don't understand," she cried aloud, with all her gayety. "You are a little
simpleton. Listen; I will put you on the stage. You will have talent, I can
see. If you have not, it will matter nothing. Walk well, dress superbly, do
strange things the odder the better, and with your features you can make
your fortune, though you can say no more than a squeaking doll at a fair."

" But I want to be great ! " cried Viva, dissatisfied with her future prospects.

" Nonsense ! When a woman passes down througrua crowd, and the people
look back after her and call out, ' that is she ! ' has she not greatness, the best
greatness ? Some Latin idiot says, they have told me, that the ' pointing
finger ' is no sure sign we are great Ridiculous ! When it points our way we
may be pretty sure we are on the highroad to fame. Besides ' great, great,
great ! ' What does that matter ? What matters in this world is to eat and
drink well, and dance, and play, and laugh, and see others perish in envy of us,
and have more gold than we can take up in both our hands, and enjoy ourselves
while we are living. That is what matters. And no one can do all those better
than a beautiful woman. Now go you in there, and wait till I come to you.
I will not be long."

She pushed Viva gently through a door that opened into a small cabinet,
and closed the door upon her. It had been very late in the clay when she had
met the actress; it was now evening; the little chamber was softly lit, and full
of the perfume of flowers and the luxuries of wealth. Viva dropped down on
a couch, and wondered whether she were awake or dreaming; a sense of fear
and a great remorse stole on her; she knew she had done wickedly, and a vague,
indefinable dread of some unknown evil came over her. She began to grieve
for her disobedience, and to long to be safe in the little attic with Tricotrin.
What would he say ! what would he think !

Her throat swelled; she felt as if she must scream out loud; even the ele-
gance and the fragrance of the place added to its strangeness and her own


iiistinrtively her hand wandered over the rich silk of her robe, and her
eye> watched the glisten of its gold embroideries, seeking consolation in these.
They brought a certain solace.

" It" 1 could only wear them always !" she thought: and the vision of her-
self upon the stage, before the world, covered with flowers, welcomed with
tumults of applause, intoxicating multitudes with her grace and her glance in
all the triumph that she had seen attained by Coriolis, arose before her, and
numbed all her repentance.

The desire to be "great" possessed her: when that insatiate passion enters
a living soul, be it the soul of a woman-child dreaming of a coqu*
quests, or a crowned hero craving for a new world, it becomes blind to all else.
Moral death falls on it; and any sin looks sweet that takes it nearer to its goal.
It is a passion that generates at once all the loftiest and all the vilest things,
which, between them, ennoble and corrupt the world; even as heat generates
at once the harvest and the maggot, the purpling vine and the lice that devour
it. It is a passion without which the world would decay in darkness, as it
would do without heat; yet to which, as to heat, all its filthiest corruption
is due.

" I shall be great ! " thought Viva, to whom the greatness of the stage
looked as the greatness of an empire: and remorse ceased to touch her. They
must suffer that she might ascend: this was the reckless reasoning of the
human and female egotism within her.

A flood of light startled her as the door was flung open and Coriolis ent<

freshly arrayed and with her fair feathery hair lying lightly on her shoulders,

diademed with flowers and with gems. She floated to the child with her soft

swift undulating movement the movement of the born almati. in whom motion

rtry, and in whose limbs lies eloquence.

Thou art in the twilight, little one!" she cried, using the familiar and
ing " thou " for the first time. " Come; I have a better light for thee
than that; and one in which there are eager eyes to behold thee. Com<

" \Vh. ;-,- 5 " asked the tempted one, with wistful wonder.

Coriolis smiled a little bitterly.

" Hush ! We never ask ' where ' in our world,

On va nil va tnute chose
Oil va le laurier ct la rose !"

And she drew the girl from the chamber, with her soft, white, dimpled hand
clasped on Viva as though it were a glove of steel.

Th<- .d all cankers at their cores, and poisoned the lips that ki

them; the laurels were all twined in with thorns, which drew blood from the


brows that they wreathed: what of that ? Cankerless roses die also; and there
are no laurels whose fruit is sweet.

She led the child in its ignorance to perdition: but she did not think so:
vice was fair in her own sight, and the devil of gold was her god; a good god
who enriched those that served him: she thought she could do no better than
bring a neophyte to believe in her cultus, and serve in her temple.

" Enjoy enjoy enjoy," her heart had whispered in her own childhood,
when she had sat on the lonely seashore and longed for a world that was un-
known: and she had enjoyed, and it seemed well to her still, and the sole thing
that it was worth while for a mortal to do. In tossing the fruit of desire into
the child's young bosom, she only gave that which had been luxuries to her own
lips, and which seemed to her still the one apple of life worth the plucking.
She was wicked, because things all sense and no soul must be so; but she was
honest, and she only led where she herself had ever gone, with tuneful swift
feet, rejoicing.

" Evil, be thou my good," she had said, in her fair, wanton, indolent, care-
less fashion, and evil had been her good; it had served her well, heaped wealth
on her, made the air she lived in full of laughter, and the lovers she sought
facile to their yoke, and the years that flew over her head, sunlit and short and
radiant with mirth. Evil had been prodigal of gifts and graces to her, and had
recompensed her as kings recompense; she deemed that there was no better

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaOuida, illustrated (Volume 6) → online text (page 18 of 79)