1839-1908 Ouida.

Ouida, illustrated (Volume 9) online

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own face in the steel mirror of the Tyndarides, she was afraid she did an
irreligious thing, an ungenerous thing, since the dead could not avenge an
insult. Though these tombs had been heaped with gold, the child of Saturnino
would have touched none of it.

Having nothing else of her own, she gave Este the uttermost of her strength
and patience; she labored late and early, she hunted for edible fungi, she
netted fish, a cruelty she loathed, she worked hard at the rush-plaiting and
the spinning to have something to take in to Telamone or Orbitello with which


to purchase the wine he needed. She raked up the pine-cones, she cut the
ling and broom; she carried in the dry wood she collected from under the trees;
she kept the sepulchres as clean and sweet as any sea-shell with the cleanly
ways that Joconda had made a second nature to her in her childhood. She
worked arduously and willingly in all ways, and this very devotion to him
obscured her beauty to him: sometimes he was ingrate enough to murmur
angrily because she left him so much alone.

She was only his servant to him; he did not see his ministering angel in
her. He did not see that glory as of a young goddess which was about her
buoyant feet and her close-curled head for the eyes of Maurice Sanctis and
of the Sicilian mariner.

To them she was so proud; to him she was so humble.

When he threw her a soft word or two of thanks, she was repaid a thousand-
fold; when at nightfall she sat at her spinning, and he told her old-world
stories of all that Maremma had seen since the mammoth pulled down the
foliage of its esculus-oaks, she was so happy that her thoughts never travelled
past that glad immediate hour.

She knew nothing of her own danger.

The only fear that ever quickened her pulse was when in the hush of night
she heard the call of the bittern booming over the marshes, or the loud rush
of the wild ducks' wings through the air, and trembled lest the sound should
be the coming of armed men to break into her sanctuary.

Now and then a quiver of sharper alarm ran through them both, when she
saw any figure of shepherd or hunter on the horizon, when the mounted buttero
crashed through the thickets chasing a brood-mare or a bull-buffalo, when the
shots sounded from the marshes or the estuaries, or the boar with the hounds
on his flanks burst through the evergreen brakes.

But these alarms were few and far between. Maremma is wide, and the
tombs of the Lucumo were fenced about with many prickly outworks of all
the ruscus tribe, and the holy-thorn, and the box-holly, which horses could not
face and that hunters had to hack with their knives. Usually the days were
perfectly still, with no sound in them save such as the birds made, or the foals
as they whinnied and capered, or the wild hogs as they grunted for joy over a
new fall of acorns.

She saw day by day the color of health return to Este's face, and strength
to his listless limbs; the potent medicine of the Orbitellano leech had restored
the tone and the nerve to a constitution naturally good, though never vigorous.
His physical beauty grew with each week that his lost health and force came
back to him. His eyes ceased to have beneath them the dark sunken circles
of weakness and pain; his skin had the delicate brown of his youth in lieu of
the pallor that had been like the hue of worn ivory; his limbs lost their ema-


elation, and regained their symmetry of proportion and ease of movement.
When he stood at nightfall for a few wary moments at the entrance of the
tombs, to draw a few timid breaths of air, and the white light of the moon fell
full upon his upraised face, it was beautiful as the Vatican Hermes' is, as some
human faces are here still in this land of the Apollo and the Antinoiis.

They were both in their youth; they had each that physical beauty which
is still, despite all the efforts of the soul and mind, the one sure sorcery that
earth still knows. They were together in the solitudes of the marshes and
forests, in the gloom under the myrtle and the heath; but they had never as
yet touched each other's lips, or found their solace on each other's breast

Of love she knew nothing, even while she loved unconsciously; and he, for
a while, still only saw the dead face of his mistress lying in the pale lamp-light
under the great golden canopy of the Gonzaga's bed.

While 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 stays 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.

Had he been asked, he would have answered that his heart was dead, like
last year's violets, and his passions with it.

" If only you could come out with me ! " she said, often, with a sigh, to
him, since to her greatest and most cruel of all losses was it to be debarred the
feel of the wind as it blew, the sight of the cloud-shadows as they sailed over
the moors and meadows.

" Nevermore shall I see the sun and smell the heather," he said, wearily.
" It is hardly worth while to live on thus."

Yet it was not the heather and the sun that he missed the most, or would
the first have sought. His heaven had not lain, like hers, in the sense of the
broad sky, in the feel of the elastic moss, in the simple joys of motion and
vision and the gladness of bright weather. What he longed for were amorous
secrecy, forbidden delights, the silent ways of an old city that he knew, the
warm loveliness of a woman who had leaned from her casement to draw him
the sooner upward to her arms.

Nature was nothing to him, and to him said nothing. What he longed for
with intolerable weariness was once more himself to live.

At his age men cling to life tenaciously, and death appalls at all ages the


Latin temperament. Yet even he at times felt tempted to make an end of this
dull, torpid, aimless existence, maintained at such difficulty and in such hard-
ship, the life of a hawk, half starved, in an iron cage. Often when she was
away he looked at the Florentine dagger, or thought of the deep pools of this
wilderness, where none but the moor-hens and mallards would see a human life
come to its last rest amidst the reeds.

But he was young, and so against all reason hope remained with him, and
made endurance possible.

It was November weather, brilliant and luminous, with noons warm as
summer, and gorgeous sunsets, and cold misty dawns that heralded bright
days. The woods were in all their pomp; the poplars yellow as guinea-gold;
the ashes, in their wondrous mingling of fawn-color and purple and brown and
crimson, the most glorious of all autumn foliage; the oaks resisted change
sternly for a while, and then transformed themselves suddenly into masses of
amber and of bronze; the bays were black with fruit; the pines were knobbed
with ripe cones; the maple was a glow of scarlet; the osmunda and the hart's-
tongue were like great flames of fire, on the ground. The huge white clouds
that wise men call cirri-cumuli swept grandly over the blue sky, and gathered
in masses westward as the sun went down. The air was strong and full of
exhilaration; the pungent odors of the wood-smoke rolled down the mountain-
sides. Last of all the flowers, the pretty canary-colored dragon's-mouth was
in blossom in all green places. It was a season in which, despite the added
perils that came with it, only to breathe and move seemed joy enough to Musa,
the earth and air around her were so gorgeous, so clear, so radiant, so healthful.


ONE day she went out fishing as soon as the mountains grew red with the
uprising of the sun. When she came ashore the morning was still young; the
water had been very cold, the air was stormy with a west wind, far away where
Sardinia lay unseen in the south, mists were hurrying up in great armies; here
the sun still shone, and the dazzle of golden light and the play of deep-blue
shadows cast from the wind-tossed clouds were very beautiful upon land
and sea.

The Sasso Scritto was all purple and green with the flowering rosemary that
covered its marble-veined sandstone; the rock-pigeons were wheeling and
meeting above it and across it, foreseeing a change in the sunshiny weather;
some kittiwakes had arrived and were floating away to the estuary; a Dutch
dogger with square sail was passing in the distance, and a little fleet of feluccas,


graceful as the kittiwakes, were running merrily under the west wind towards
the Cape of Troja.

Musa, in haste to return, put the rope of her boat over her shoulders and
began to pull it over the sand to that hole in the rocks where she was wont to
hide it. As she bent her head and shoulders forward to make the first ell'mt
at hauling it from the fringe of the waves, she heard the sound of oars in the
water behind her. Always afraid of being watched, and above all afraid when
she had her boat, lest any should see and steal it as soon as her back was
turned, she let the rope fall from her shoulders and looked towards the sea.

In another moment, another boat's keel ground upon the sand and stones,
and from it Maurice Sanctis leaped, and stood before her among the southern-
wood and sea-rush. For a moment they were both mute, he from hesitation,
she from fear and anger commingled. By the Sasso Scritto no human foot
but her own fell on that solitary shore from one year to another. It was a bad
place for landing, and its ill repute for this among the fishermen had long kept
it untroubled for her and the blue-rocks and the rock-martins.

She had never dreaded disturbance there. She stood with wide-opened
angry eyes staring on him, the rope slipping through her hand, the sea-water
running from her kilted skirt and shining feet, the west wind blowing the dusky
gold of her curls, her cheeks warm with exertion and the cold sea-air till they
glowed like the damask of the autumn rose.

" Why did you come back ? " she said, with a sombre wrath in her voice.
" I told you to go away; I told you to stay away."

" I could not obey you," said Sanctis, gently. " I have been away five
months and more. I strove against the wish to return, since I knew that I
should be unwelcome to you. But at last the thought of you all alone now
that winter is so nigh overcame my resolution. I could not stay on in ease
and mirth and luxury in Paris and think of you in the wild weather dependent
on chance for bread."

He looked at her wistfully. She seemed to him more lovely than before,
and more than ever sternly and fiercely hostile to him.

In truth, she was not thinking of him at all, except in the sense of a fresh
and terrible danger. How could she keep him out of the tombs ? How could
she prevent his finding Este there ? It was of that alone she was thinking as
she continued to gaze at him, her eyes full of anger and alarm.

" Do not look at me with so much fear and hatred," he said, patiently. " I
can wish you nothing but good. There is the memory of Joconda between us.
Can it not be in some little measure a peace-maker ? "

Her eyes softened at the name he invoked, but she was too deeply disturbed
for her to be won over by his words.

" I do not know why you should trouble yourself as to me," she said, with


a sullenness that was the outcome of extreme dread. " I told you in the
summer-time I have all I want. I am happy. But I do not like to be hunted
like this. Go back to your own country, and leave me alone in mine."

" You are alone still ? " he asked: he was thinking of the Sicilian sailor.

Her face grew troubled, and the rose of her cheeks spread over her brow
and throat. She had never lied in her life. She must needs lie now. It was
the shame of that which made her blush so hotly; but Sanctis only saw in the
sudden flush of color an answer to his question made in such wise that there
was nothing else left to learn. Yet he could not repress an impatient word.

" It is the Sicilian ? " he said, quickly.

She laughed angrily.

"You remember the Sicilian? No: he is gone as he came. I tell you
I want no one. If I did, what would that be to you ? I do not know why
you torment me. I loved Joconda, but, I told you before, you have nothing
of her. You are rich and she was poor; your people forgot her all her life
long, and I do not see why you should think of her now. As for me, I am
well and I need nothing; but do not hunt me: it makes me wicked."

" I do not hunt you," said Sanctis, distressed and perplexed. " Why should
you think of such a thing? I would be your friend if you would let me, and
I cannot understand why I should seem to you an enemy. It is impossible
that I can be that. You are set against me, but that is no fault of mine.
I have met you by mere accident. I came here to go over the moors to your
sepulchre. I intended nothing but what was open and simple. I landed at
Orbitello this morning "

The color faded as quickly out of her face as it had come there. A great
dread froze her very heart. How could she keep him from the tombs ? His
patient gentleness with his unchanging resolve alarmed her much more than
any fiery menaces or reproaches of Daniello Villamagna's would have done.
It gave her the impression of being something she could neither bend nor
break. This Northern persistence gave her the sense of being meshed in by
it as the fish were in the web of the nets.

She did not know what to say to him, nor how to rid herself of his impor-

" You see I do not want for anything," she said, at last. " You see I am
strong and well. Go back to your own land and leave me in mine. I told
you in the summer you cannot drive a gray-lag goose by force to the poultry-

" Will you not let me come with you ? "

" No: if the people, any one of them, see you here again, they will talk
of me and find out where I dwell. I told you so in the summer. You are a
stranger, you are a signore; it looks odd to see you here."


" I will come to you there-

Her heart beat loud; a great terror which she concealed was upon her.

" It will be ungenerous if you do," she said, coldly. " I should never have
been found by you if Zirlo had not betrayed me. Do not be as mean as he.
When I see where a moor hen has made her nest, I never go near; I will even
walk miles out of the way sooner than disturb her. Why do you not feel that
for me ? "

" Is it a nest that you have made there ? " said Sanctis, with an irritation
that he would have been ill able to explain to himself. " You were all alone
with your dead in the summer."

" The dead are better friends than the living."

" You escape my question."

" I do not see why you should question me. Let me go: that is all I wish
to do."

" You are free to go, of course. But if you forbid me to follow you, will
you meet me here once at the least ? "

" What can you have to say? If it be what you said in the summer, you
know that it is of no use to say it all again. I shall not come."

" Let-me put your boat up for you, at the least," said Sanctis, controlling
whatever impatience he felt, and having faith that patience soon or late prevailed
with all women. " Your shorefolks must be very honest people that they have
never stolen it from you."

" It is not because they are honest, but because they are afraid of the Sasso
Scritto. It has a bad name. There are sunken rocks and quaking sands
about it. I know where they are, but they are always dangerous."

As she spoke, she drew the rope over her shoulders and began to pull her
boat upward.

Seeing that she was obdurate, Sanctis went behind the boat and pushed it
and lifted it through the stones and the sand and the sea-grasses that choked
the way.

' I have put it up every day that I have used it without help," said Musa,

But he did not desist, and with the aid of his strength the little skiff was
soon safe beyond the water-mark of the rocks in a cleft that glittered with
marbles golden and white, and gleams of porphyry and agate. Then she took
out of it the little fish she had captured, and turned her head to Sanctis.

" If really you do not hunt me, do not come with me. If you try to follow
me, I will run: you know I am swifter than you. I can go as fast as the
bunting when I choose."

" Will you meet me here once for Joconda's sake ? I will not ask you for


"Very well," she saici, reluctantly. "It is folly. But I will come, if
nothing else will content you. I will be here to-morrow at this hour."

" Not this evening ? "

"No; to-morrow. Keep your word, and do not follow me. It makes me
feel as the buck feels when the dogs are after him. I am very sorry that you
have come from your own country, for it is loss of time, and to you I seem
thankless and rude, no doubt. Look up yonder at those rock-martins. What
is the best thing you can do for them ? It is to leave them alone. I am like
them: I have my house in the rocks. I do not want to go away to other air,
as the nightingales go, and the lories."

" But in those sepulchres, under the earth "

" The kingfisher's house is under the earth, and he would not thank you to
pull him out of it. I will come here to-morrow, for Joconda's sake. Fare-
well to-day."

With the little glittering fish in her hand, and the sen-wet wool of her
clothes clinging to her limbs, she turned away and began to climb the face
of the cliff as rapidly and as easily as a woodpecker climbs a tree.

She went so quickly and with such sure feet that the bluish-gray of her
kirtle was soon lost among the bluish-gray of the rosemary. The sun-rays and
the shadows played about her head, and the rock-doves who knew her so well
flew in circles round her path; soon she had climbed to where the little rain-
clouds floated across the upper portion of the cliff, and there the vapor of them
took her to itself as if she were indeed the goddess of the golden bow and
hidden in a cloud.

Sanctis stood baffled and troubled, looking up at the face of the cliff and
watching the blue-rocks whirling under the shadows and the martins swaying
under the force of the wind as they flew. He could not tell what to think.
An irresistible desire to try once more to persuade her, to see once more this
sad green land she loved, had driven him here on an impulse altogether
against his judgment. A vague jealousy stirred in him, thinking of that hot
blush that had come upon her face. Had any found the mystical secret of
influence that escaped himself ? Had any more akin to her learned the way
to tame and move her? It did not seem possible; she was still so bold, so
dauntless, so grave, so innocent. Surely Love had not passed by there ?

His heart set itself on winning this halcyon from its subterranean home,
on bringing this flame-winged flamingo from the loneliness of the marsh and
the estuary into the world of men.

It was no wise wish, nor was it one easy of fulfilment, but in its very
unwisdom and difficulty it dominated him with the same persistence of pos-
session as that with which the desire of her beauty haunted the Sicilian mariner.
He did not try to follow her: she had touched his pride when she had called


the attempt ungenerous. But he stood motionless, and followed her in thought
over the head of the cliff and along that green winter country which stretched
between the shore and the tomb of the Lucumo.

Sudden splashes of white rain and the breaking of the clouds massed south-
ward into storm aroused him. Under the heavy down-pour from the skies and
against the wind he made his tedious way back to desolate Telamone.

Musa ran home as fast as the little felucca fleet was scudding before the
wind to the Trojan cape. Este was looking impatiently upward through
the shrubs that screened the entrance.

" How long you have been ! " he said, with a little accent of reproach that
was almost querulous.

" I will make haste now," she said, humbly, and, without waiting to change
her skirt, still heavy with sea- and rain-water, she began at once to make a
charcoal fire in the bronze which served her for that purpose.

" I wish you had not to be so constantly away," said Kste, as he watched
her at her work. " It is very lonely here. There is not even a dog."

" What can I do ? " she answered him. " You must have food, so must I.
It does not grow on these rocks."

" I know, I know ! And I am so useless ! "

She was silent as she fanned the charcoal with her breath. She was won-
dering whether she had better tell him of the new danger to him that might
arise if Maurice Sanctis should come thither.

But silence was so habitual with her that she doubted the wisdom of any
departure from it. Of what use to torment him with a new dread ? She
trusted to her own powers of repelling her undesired friend in so resolute a
manner that Sanctis would abandon his attempts to force his companionship
and assistance on her. She knew that he would not come there all that day:
amidst her suspicion of him as so unlike anything she had ever known, her
instinct made her unconsciously do justice to the loyalty of his nature.

" What is a place they call Paris ? " she said suddenly to Este, as she
watched his fish roast in the heat from the charcoal.

"It is a great French city," Este answered her. "I was never there. It
is all light and noise and mirth, they say; it is carnival with them all the year
round. They are very great in comedy and spectacle; they are half Greek
and half Harlequin. What made you think of Paris ? I would sooner you
saw Mantua, with its water-meadows and its long lines of reeds, and its dying
frescos, and all the ghosts of the Gonzaga. What could make you think of
Paris ? The sea-gulls could not talk to you of it."

" I met a stranger on the shore; he said he was of Paris."

" A stranger ? A young man ? "

" He is not old."


" Have you seen him before ? "

" Yes, in the summer, before you came here. Then he went away, and
now he is here again; and you will be very careful, because in the summer he
made paintings of these tombs, and it may be that he will come back to do the

Then she took the fish from the embers, and served them with a tempting
grace upon some green leaves on one of the red and black dishes of the
Etruscan ware. She took none of them herself; she ate her rough oaten
bread with good appetite, while she gave a roll of wheaten flour to Este and
a draught of wine in the silver skyphos.

" I thought you always hid yourself from all eyes," said Este, with some
anger, as he looked suddenly at her. " You must have stayed to converse with
this man, since you know whence he came."

"I had talked to him in the summer-time. He means no harm; only he
must not see you, though I do not think he would speak; do not come so near
the entrance as you were to-day."

Este was silent. A new sense stirred in him that was almost a jealous
anger. When she was away all through the long hours he had never thought
of her as seeing or being seen by any human creature; he knew she hid
herself from the shepherd, from the hunter, from the cattle-keeper, from the
charcoal-burner, and he had thought these were the only men that ever passed
over the moors or came down to the marshes, and that these were scattered
and met with but rarely. All in a moment, as he heard her speak of meeting
a stranger on the shove, he became suddenly alive to that great personal beauty
in her which his mind had languidly acknowledged but his pulse had never
quickened to before.

This stranger had been here in the summer and had come again !

All at once he realized that here, growing unnoticed by him in the twilight
in the heart of the rocks, was a wild flower that men of science would envy him,
an orchid of the swamps, an amaryllis of the woods, that they would covet
for hothouse and hortus siccus in the cities of the world.

" Why do you go out so long and so often ? " he said, angrily. " You are
too young, you are too handsome: you cannot wander as the hare does and
the polecat from morn to eve."

She laughed a little.

" I must, or what food should we have ? The danger is not for me: it is

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaOuida, illustrated (Volume 9) → online text (page 74 of 92)