1839-1908 Ouida.

Ouida, illustrated (Volume 7) online

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the earth covers her and them; but such shelter is denied forever to the woman
who has genius and fame; long after she is dead she will lie out on common
soil, naked and unhouselled, for all the winds to blow on her and all the carrion-
birds to tear."

His voice broke down for a moment, and he paused and breathed heavily
and with pain. A faint dusky red of anger, yet more of shame, came on the



746 QUID AS WORKS.

face of Hilarion. What was noble in him was touched and aroused; what
was vain and unworthy was wounded and stung.

" I do not follow you," he muttered. " What would you have me do ?"

" What ? Surely you know that when Paris salutes in her a great artist, it
tells also the tale of her ruin by you ?"

Hilarion moved restlessly.

" I know ! She was seen here one winter. Is it my fault ? If the statue
had been unlike me, Paris would not have remembered."

" That is all you say ? "

" It is all there is to say. If she^would forget, the world would forget too."

" Oh, my God ! "

Maryx groaned aloud. It seemed to him as terrible as when of old some
lovely human life, in its first youth, was laid low in sacrifice to some god of
stone, whose eyes of stone could not even behold in pity its death-throes.

"But she will not forget. Have I told you so in vain?" he cried, aloud,
and his voice rose and rolled like thunder through the silence. " She will never
forget, God help her.

"Vile women and light ones forget; and the adulteress forgets, and the
harlot; but she, can you look at that marble and insult her, still ? To her
you are lover and lord, and husband and king, and the only God that she
knows, and the one shame of her life and its one glory. Have you no pity ?
have you no human heart in your breast; were you not born of a woman ?
You found her content and innocent and in peace, and for your own pleasure
and vanity drove all that away, and all her dreams and all her girlhood perished
by you; and you only say she should forget ! Can even men forget when
they will ? "

"I can," Hilarion answered; and he lied.

" Is it your boast ? " said Maryx, and the fierce pangs in him rose to fury,
and he barely held his hand from the throat of the man who stood there.

" Well, then, forget if you will, and may God forget you in recompense !
Listen one moment more, and I have done. To-day I come from the presence
of men who are great, and who say that never has a woman been so near
greatness as she is. You know her, you, as no other can, know her pure
and perfect, and without soil save such as you, in your sport, have chosen to
cast on her. You know her truth and innocence so entire that you have con-
fessed how they shamed you and wearied you by their very excellence. She
is lovely as the morning; she is yours in life and in death. What more can you
want ? Will you not go back to her ? Will you not give honor where you have
given dishonor ? Will you not, when you are dying, be glad to feel one wrong
the less was done ? You have said she is to forget. She will only forget in
her grave. Have you no pity ? What can I say to move you ? If you have



ARIADNE. 747

no tenderness for such love as hers, you are colder than the marble in which
she has made your likeness and lifted it up as a god to the world ! "

The strength of his own emotion choked his words; he pleaded for her as
never would he for his own life's sake have pleaded for himself.

Hilarion listened in silence; his eyelids were still drooped; his face was
still tinged with the faint red of what was half shame, half anger.

He was shaken to the depths of his nature, but those depths were not deep
as in the nature of the man who besought him, and they had long been filled
up with the slough of vanity and of self-indulgence.

His heart thrilled, his pulse quickened, his eyes were dim, he was full of
pain, even full of repentance; he thought of the young head that had lain on
his breast in such faith, as the dove on its safest shelter; he felt the clinging
caress of those hands which were so weak in his own, though so strong to wield
the sword of Athene.

All that had ever been in him of manhood, of tenderness, of valor, yearned
in one tender longing to yield to the impulse within him; but all that was vain,
selfish, and cold stirred under censure and nerved him against emotion. The
imperious irritation of his temper rose, and his vanity was wounded by the very
shame he felt. His pride refused; his impatience of counsel chafed; and that
cruel mockery which often mastered him as if it were a devil that lived in him
and were stronger than he, spurred him now to what he knew was an infamy.

He lifted his eyes slowly with a contemptuous regard, and smiled.

" You waste much eloquence," he said. "You have loved her: you love
her still. Console her yourself."

Maryx struck him on the mouth.



CHAPTER XL.

To a blow there is but one answer, in our land at least.

The dawn was scarcely broken when they met again. The air was gray,
and windless, and cold. They did not speak a word.

Hilarion fired, and the shot struck Maryx in the breast. Maryx had fired
in the air.

He stood a moment erect, with his face to the sunrise, then fell to the
ground, backward, his head striking the turf and the stones. They heard him
say, as he fell,

" She bade me not hurt him. I promised."

Then he lay quite still, and the blood began to well out slowly from his
mouth.



748 QUID AS WORKS.

The delicate and nervous hand that had hewn such lovely and majestic
shapes out from the rocks clinched the roots of the rank grasses in the convul-
sion of a mortal agony; in another moment it relaxed its hold and was motion-
less, palm upward, on the earth, never more to create, never more to obey the
will of the soul and the brain.

The sun came over the low hills suddenly, and it was day. He gave one
long slow shuddering sigh as his life-blood choked him, then stretched his
limbs out wearily, and lay there dead.



CHAPTER XLI.

AND the old mother was sitting at home, telling her wooden beads, and
blind, and saying in her prayers,

" Dear Mother .of God, let him soon come back; for when I hear his voice
I seem to see a little still; it is not all quite dark."

I sat by my stall by the bridge, and it was brilliant noon-tide, and the waters
were glancing like satin in the sun, when the story of his death came to me.
Giulio brought it to me, rushing like a mad creature down from the Golden
Hill, his white hair blowing from his bare head, and his eyes seeming to leap
from their sockets.

" The master ! the master ! " he cried, and for a long time could say no
more, staring at the skies and gasping the name of Maryx.

When I arose and understood, it seemed to me as if the Tiber ran blood,
and as if all Rome rocked with the throes of an earthquake.

Maryx dead !

It seemed to me as if the very earth must groan aloud, and the very dogs
of the street weep.

Why had I broken the steel in Venice ? I cursed my imbecility and my
feebleness of purpose, I cursed the mother that had borne me a fool only fit
to bring ruin on all lives that I honored and loved !

" It is I who have murdered him, I ! " I cried aloud to the terrified crowds.

Fortune had blessed him for five-and-twenty years, and I have bidden him
pause that day by the Wingless Love !

I remember how bright the noon was, how the fresh winds from the sea
rushed by, how the little birds were singing, and how the swallows and the
pigeons were whirling and darting above the waters; and he was lying dead,
he whose thoughts and whose labors had been strong as Hercules, and as
Adonis beautiful !

He was dead, dead, dead ! the great soul of him gone out into nothing-



ARIADNE. 749

ness as the flame of the lamp he had struck down had been quenched in the
darkness !

An awful silence seemed to fall on Rome.

There were so many wept for him.

And none could be found who dared tell her. For me, they say that I was
mad, as I had been that day when I had seen the white sail fade out of sight
on the sea.

I had murdered him, that was all that seemed written to me, everywhere,
on the sky as on a scroll, and on the streets as on tablets of stone. As the
throngs of students and of poor rushed by me over the bridge, going to his
beautiful home, where the sculptures were, and the nightingales, to know if
indeed this thing were true, I stood in their way and cried to them,

" Throw me in the river ! it is I who killed him. I was the first to bid him
look on her face ! "

And they did not understand me, and pushed me aside, and I fell, and
some of them trampled on me as they rushed onward. When I rose, bruised
and crushed, a sudden memory struck across my heaving brain.

She must not know ! oh, she must never know ! I said to myself: yet how
keep from her what all Rome mourned, how deafen her ear to the woe that was
a whole city's ?

I staggered up to the house on the Golden Hill, why, I know not, only
that all Rome was flocking there. There was a great multitude before the
gates, and there were throngs of his own friends in the green garden ways.

The old blind woman within heard the noise of the many feet, and nodded
her head.

" That is all the princes come for him, I dare say: he lives with the kings,
you know." And then, for she grew childish, she sent her maids about: " Go
tell them he is not home, but he will be home to-night; yes, to-night. I bade
him not be long."

And no one could be found who would tell her the truth. When at last
a priest told her, she would not believe. She shook her head.

" Dead before me? Nay, nay; God is good."

When the priest sadly insisted, she would not hear.

" Look you," she said to him: "the marble killed them all, and the marble
took the soul out of him, but God would not take his body too. No, because
I should be all alone. God is too good for that."

And she told her beads, and they could not make her believe, since she was
sure that God was good.

I crept back to my stall, shivering in the full summer heat.

By evening I sent the Greek lad, who only lived to do her any service if he
could, to say to the people of Gioja that I was unwell and would be with her



750 QUID AS WORKS.

on the morrow, bidding him caution those about her to keep the truth from
her ear. I had no fear that she would come out into the streets. She seldom
went abroad, for when she needed air there was the great garden of her own
dwelling, and she never now left its gates.

The night and the day and another night passed. I sent the lad with mes-
sages to her to say that I was still sick, and should be scarce able to traverse
the city for a few days. I felt as if I could never look upon her face and think
of him and hold my silence; and surely to know the truth would kill her. I
could not tell what to do.

It seemed to me as if the earth could never hold so much woe and still go
on, through the air, round the sun, and bring the seasons one by one, and the
birth of the children.

On the third day they brought his dead body home to Rome. Great artists
came with it. They laid the bier down in the spare room: they laid it beneath
the Apollo Citharoedus.

" A great man is dead," they said, " and there are none living that are like
to him."

It was serene midsummer weather.

Outside, under the arbutus and laurel, his nightingales were still flooding the
evening air with their music; his roses were blooming, his doves were sleeping
under the leaves, his aloes were unsheathing fresh blades in the light; the sun-
rays and the moon-rays wandered by turn across the marble floor, all night
long the birds sang, the birds he had loved to hear, and he lay dead there
in his leaden shroud: under the Apollo of the Lute.

The people came there and stood there in large quiet crowds, at times
weeping and wailing, for all Rome had honored him.

His charities had been liberal as the fragrance of the summer, and the
young and the old mourned, one with another, saying, " to be in need was to
be his friend; " but neither the lamentation of the people nor the song of the
nightingales could reach the ear that was deaf for the first time to their sorrow
and to their song.

He was dead; and Hilarion had killed him.

I said it over and over to myself, again and again and again, kneeling on
the threshold of the room by the side of Giulio: and still it seemed to me
impossible; still it seemed to me that, if indeed it were so, the earth must stand
still, and the sun cease to rise.

The lights burned around the bier; the shutters were closed; the nightin-
gales sang without, one could hear them; in her own chamber his mother sat
and told her beads and said, " Dead ? Nay, never ! God is too good for that."

I did not know how time went. I seemed to have knelt there for ever and
ever; the candles were like clusters of stars; the faint singing of the birds was



ARIADNE. 751

like a child's dream of angels; the Apollo leaned above on his mute lyre; and
in the midst was Maryx dead.

I suppose two or three nights had passed, and still he lay there for the sight
of the Roman people, and the multitudes came and went, softly, and weeping,
until out of all the great city there were few left who had not bent their knee
there where he lay, and gone down, away under the stars, through the cypresses,
saying that earth had not his like.

Once I heard the voice of a woman, saying, " There is one whom I pity
more than he: it is the man who slew him."

Were there women who pitied Hilarion ?

Doubtless some women pitied Cain.

In the gloom, whilst the lights were burning still, some one raised me at
last, and thrust me out from the doorway, and there were torches like a great
fire, flaring and flaming under the warm summer skies, and making the moon-
light red; and there were voices chanting, and black robes and white, and the
nightingales were frightened and dumb: then I knew that the end was come.

I stumbled out by the side of Giulio, and together we went down the green
garden paths, under the boughs, over the fallen orange flowers that were like
snow upon the ground: for the last time we followed him.

His fellow-sculptors bore his pall, and the youths of the Villa Medici were
his first mourners. Behind them were the crowds of Rome, the illustrious and
the beggar side by side..

Thus was his body borne down the Golden Hill for evermore, over the
bridge across the water, in the hush of the night, and out ot the city gates
beyond the walls to the burial-ground by San Lorenzo.

I had so little sense left in me, so little consciousness, save that I was alive,
and stumbled on in the midst of the multitudes, with the thousands of flaming
torches and the ten thousand stars of light that even the poorest hand had
found means to carry there, amidst the dull slow sound of the rolling wheels
of the princes and the tramp of the feet of the, poor, and the sighing moan of
the chants as they rose.and fell, that I never remembered that the funeral must
pass by the tower which stood near the Holy Cross of Jerusalem Gateway of
Honorius.

When I remembered, the torches were already burning on the wind under
the very walls. I screamed aloud; but who should have heard, or hearing
would have heeded ?

I looked up: her casements were all open: she was awake in the lovely
summer night that was near on its twelfth hour.

The people rolled on like the heavy waves of a sea, and the flare, as of fire,
illumined the silent solitary way: I was borne on with the throngs onward and
onward to the field of tombs.



752 QUID AS

There the earth yawned and the grave took him.

I know not how long a time had gone when the multitudes passed backward
to the city, leaving him there alone.

The torches were burning low; old men were weeping like little children,
the children in their fathers' arms were silent and afraid; the sorrow of all
Rome was his requiem.

As the crowds bore me with them through the gates, in the starlit midnight,
the people nearest me gave way, a shadowy white figure came through the
press, and I saw the face of Gioja, there, unveiled, in the dull red glow of the
torchlight.

" Who is it dead ? " she asked, and her voice seemed to me to come from
afar off, as if from the heights of the air or the depths of the graves. Before I
could answer her, Giulio spoke, willing to slay her if the words would slay.

" Maryx is dead. Whom else should all Rome mourn ? Your lover killed
him for your sake."



CHAPTER XLII.

THE summer went on; the nightingales of Maryx sang on under the rose-
thickets, and the glossy leaves of the laurels; the rank grass grew on his grave,
and it was marked by one vast rough block of white marble, as though to say
that no hand after his dared carve the rocks; his mother, blind and in dotage,
sat and told her wooden beads, and smiled, and said always, " Dead ! Nay,
nay ! God were too good for that."

Rome was empty and silent as the grave, and only the hot winds were left to
wander, unquiet, through the deserted streets.

And she my Ariadne was dying slowly as the summer died.

" You have killed her ! " I had said to Giulio that night.

" So best," he had answered me; for his soul was set against her as a thing
accursed, he, who had seen the blows of the mallet shatter the Nausicaa.

The wise men whom I brought to her said there was no disease: there may
have been none; but none the less I knew that her life was over, and the Greek
lad knew it too, because he loved her. From that night when she had seen the
funeral of Maryx pass beneath her walls, and learned by whom he had been
slain, she seemed to droop just as a flower will; there is no decay that you can
see, the blossom is lovely, and its leaves young, and the dews of morning are
on it, but nevertheless it fades, fades, fades, and you know that in a little
while you will rise some day and find it dead.

Who can measure what she felt?



ARIADNE. 753

Ai'don never had more innocence and more remorse, Ai'don, who slew what
she cherished in the dark, not knowing.

By her had death come to the one and crime to the other: had she been in
the old days of Rome she would have plunged her living body into the yawning
earth, or the leaping fires, to purify the souls of those whom she had cursed.

" Let me go to him ! " she cried once; for it was still the living man of
whom she thought the most, and perchance the woman in the crowd had been
right: perhaps it was he who needed pity the most.

Then her head fell on her breast.

" I cannot ! " she muttered. " He will hate me forever, now."

She dared not go to him, she through whom, all innocently, his hands
were red with the blood of his friend.

She was to herself accursed, and the death and the sin that had come by
her lay on her innocent soul like lead, and under the ghastly weight of it the
youth in her withered as the grass withers up under a heavy stone.

Day by day, slowly, the strength in her waned, and the loveliness of her
faded.

To her none of the common excuses for his act would have been intelligible.
She understood none of the customs and conventions that ruled the world he
dwelt in; she could not have comprehended why in the eyes of men he had
done no wrong, but merely followed out his right in vengeance of a- blow.
She knew nothing of all this: she only understood that he had killed his friend,
through her.

She, who would have dragged herself through seas of blood to save him
from pang or shame, had brought this guilt upon her head: that was all she
understood. For her Maryx had died. For her Hilarion was a murderer.
This was all she knew. A sense of overwhelming' and ineffaceable guilt
fell upon her: she shrank away, ashamed and afraid, from the light of
the day.

Of him I heard nothing, save that he had not attempted to escape from
whatever the laws of his fellows might do to him; that I heard. Justice !
I laughed aloud as I heard. What could bring back the dead from the
sepulchre? What could light again the divine fires of the genius he had
quenched ?

Justice !

Then I understood how men could grow cruel. Had his doom been in my
hands, I would have made every breath a pang to him such as Dante himself
never conceived in hell.

There is no justice upon earth; and hardly any vengeance. When we are
young we hope for both; but we wait and wait, and we grow old, and death
comes, but on justice we never have looked. Death makes all men equal,



754 QUID AS WORKS.

say the preachers. Oh, terrible irony ! Equal lie the murdered and the
murderer.

Once more, and forever, the sword and the clew of Athene dropped from
her weary hands. Art ceased to exist to her: from the sight of the whiteness
of marble she shrank as from the sight of a murdered creature; from the calm
changeless eyes of the statues she fled as from the gaze of an avenging god.

She was innocent: yet the Erinnyes pursued her, and night and day she had
no rest. With each hot month of the summer the spirit within her seemed to
faint more and more, and her body grew weaker and weaker, till at length she
could not rise, but lay there still and mute as the young angels that lie on the
tombs with folded hands and their wings drooped, waiting

" Could I but suffer for him ! " she said, often; and it was still the living
man that she meant. The dead was at rest; but he

I dared not say to her the thing I thought, that he suffered nothing, he
who had slain men before this and only called it honor.

She lay there, I say, in the solitude of her chamber, and at last could not
rise or move at all, and Only saw the blue skies and the changes of sun and
of stars through the high-arched casements barred with iron, with the blue
veronica flowers hanging down them, and past them the pigeons flying.

The wise men said she should go from Rome; but that she would not do.
Rome was to her as the mother in whose arms she would fain breathe her last.

From the height of her chamber even as she lay she could see the whole
width of the city outspread, and the long dark lines of the pines on the hills,
and the light which told where the sea was. She would lie and look, as the
dying child looks at its mother's face.

No one said she was dying: they said it was weakness, and the hot heavy
air of the summer. But I knew it, and Amphion, and Ersilia, whose fierce
eyes clouded with the rush of tears whenever she looked upon her.

Whether she knew it herself I cannot tell; she had so little thought of
herself. All her life had gone out to the dead in his grave and the living man
with his sin. If she could have gone to Hilarion, I think she would still have
found strength to live.

Out in the world of men, fame awaited her, for the myriad tongues of it
made her great; and because her laurel had grown out of passion and death,
the world spoke but the more of it, and was ready to crown as its reigning
caprice this woman of so much loveliness and so much genius who had been
so faithlessly forsaken and so fatally beloved.

But the world called in vain.

As well might the Satyrs and Sileni have tried to wake Ariadne, dead on
the shore, with the shaft in her breast.

Men came to me, great men, and other men whose trade it was to chaffer



ARIADNE. 755

in the works of genius; and they all told the same tale; and the trumpets of
Fame were blowing loud in her honor yonder over the mountains, and Rome
itself began to wake and say, " What daughter of mine is this that has the
ancient strength and the ancient grace in her ? "

But I heard them, and bade them go their ways.

They came too late.

The trumpets of Fame sounded but as the empty hooting of the gnats; the
voice of Rome was as the voice of Niobe calling in vain.

"You come too late," I said to them; and my eyes were dry and my brain
was calm; for the gods had done their worst, and the earth might as well have
perished, for aught that it held for me.

The summer wore away; the desert winds blew hotly, filled with sand, and
driving it, and bringing the pestilence from the reedy swamps and the feebleness
of slow sickness from the shallows of the river.

The vastness of Rome lay under the sun like a grave-yard: Death had been
digging there three thousand years, and had yet not done his labors.

The sky was like a brazen vessel, and the feet of the few passing people
sounded always like the steps of muffled mourners burying their dead. By
night in the white streets there seemed to be no other thing than the masked
men and the torches and the dead.

It was not a sicklier season than any other, they said; but thus it seemed
ever to me, and the noise of the fountains lost all melody to my ears, and
sounded only a dull hollow murmur, as of a sea that could never wash out the



Online Library1839-1908 OuidaOuida, illustrated (Volume 7) → online text (page 83 of 87)