Odette A Fairy Tale for Weary People
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Crown 8vo. 6s. each
“The author of this book has a giftfor trenchant satire ... one cannothelp feeling that Mr. Firbank musthave gone straight to life for some ofthese people.”
“Mr. Ronald Firbank’s fiction bearsa strong resemblance to the work ofthe Futurists in painting.”
“The book is pleasant, vivacious andstimulating throughout.”
CAPRICE (In preparation)
GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
ST. MARTIN’S ST.
A FAIRY TALE FOR WEARY PEOPLE
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS
BY ALBERT BUHRER
GRANT RICHARDS LIMITED
ST. MARTIN’S STREET
IN ALL THE WORLD
THE DEAREST OF MOTHERS
Odette: A Fairy Tale
for Weary People
IN the long summer evenings,when the shadowscrept slowly over thelawn, and the distanttowers of the cathedralturned purple in the settingsun, little Odette d’Antreverneswould steal out from the old greychateau to listen to the birds murmuring“good-night” to one anotheramongst the trees.
Far away, at the end of the longavenue of fragrant limes, wound theLoire, all amongst the flowery meadowsand emerald vineyards, like a wonderfullooking-glass reflecting all the sky;and across the river, like an ogre’scastle in a fairy tale, frowned thechateau of Luynes, with its round greyturrets and its long, thin windows, sonarrow, that scarcely could a princessin distress put forth her little whitehand to wave to the true knight thatshould rescue her from her terrible fate.
Just until the sun disappeared behindthe trees, veiled in a crimson cloud,little Odette would remain in the shadowygarden, then quickly and mysteriouslyshe would slip back into theold grey chateau; where, in the long,dim drawing-room, before two waxcandles, she would find her AuntValerie d’Antrevernes embroidering analtar cloth for the homely lichenedvillage church, that one could see acrossthe rose garden from the castle windows.
“Where have you been, my child?”her aunt would ask her, glancing upfrom the lace altar cloth that fell aroundher in a snowy cloud.
And Odette, in her pretty baby voice,would reply: “I have been listeningto the birds saying their eveningprayers,” and then silently she wouldsit on a low hassock at her aunt’sfeet, and tell herself fairy stories untilFortune, her Creole nurse, should comeand carry her off to bed.
Sometimes of an evening the oldCurť of Bois-Fleuri would come tovisit Madame d’Antrevernes, and littleOdette would watch them as theytalked, wondering all the while ifMonsieur le Curť had really seen God.She had never dared ask.
Her aunt always sat in a high armchairof faded blue tapestry, embroideredin gold, with the family arms ona background of fleur-de-lys, and herpale, beautiful face, as it bent over thelace altar cloth, made little Odettethink of angels and Holy Saints.
Odette had always seen her auntthus, bending over an altar cloth forGod, so whenever she thought ofMadame d’Antrevernes it was with apeculiar reverence that almost approachedto awe.
One evening, when little Odette layawake in her deep four-posted bed,watching the firelight dance upon thestrange tapestry figures that coveredthe walls, she heard Fortune, her oldnurse, talking to one of the servants.She caught her aunt’s name, then herown, and without realizing that shewas doing wrong, she listened to whatFortune said.
She did not really understand whatshe heard, for she was watching thefirelight as it shone upon a tall faded-lookinglady in blue, who was regardingwith outstretched arms the sky whichwas full of angels. All about the lady,in a field of red and white flowers, laysleeping sheep. Her aunt had oncetold her that the faded-looking bluelady, whom Odette had imagined to bethe Lady Virgin herself, was Joan ofArc receiving the message from heavento deliver France.
So as Odette watched the firelightdancing upon the faded tapestry, shelistened, without knowing that she waslistening to the voice of Fortune, who,in the next room, sat gossiping withanother servant.
“She never seems able to forgethim,” she heard Fortune say. “Eversince the day that Monsieur le Marquiskilled Monsieur d’Antrevernes in aduel, Madame has never recovered.”
“She had scarcely been married amonth, sweet soul, when her husbandwas brought home to her dead ...and so beautiful he looked as he lay inthe great hall, his eyes wide-open andsmiling, just as if he were still alive....Madame la Comtesse was in therose garden at the time with Monsieurle Curť—no one knew where she was,and when suddenly she entered thehall, her hands all full of summerroses, and saw her husband lying deadbefore her, she gave a terrible cry andfainted straight away.... For daysafter she hung between life and death,and then, when she at last got wellagain, she always seemed to be thinkingof him, always seemed to be livingin the past. Sometimes she would sitfor hours in the garden staring in frontof her, and smiling and talking to herselfso that I used to feel afraid. Then,a few years later, when the father andmother of the little Odette were drownedon their way back from India, Madameseemed to wake up from her longdream, as it were, and went to Paristo fetch Mademoiselle Odette from theconvent of the Holy Dove.”
Little Odette had fallen asleep bercedby the lullaby of the old servant’s voice,and when next morning the risen sunshone in a shower of gold through thediamond-paned windows of her room,and all the birds in the garden belowwere rejoicing amidst the trees, littleOdette had forgotten the conversationshe had overheard the previous nightas she lay awake watching the firelightdancing upon the faded blue gown ofthe Maid of France.
SOMETIMES of an afternoonMonsieur le Curťde Bois-Fleuri would callat the chateau and askBlaise, the long valuedbutler, whether MademoiselleOdette d’Antrevernes was athome; and Blaise would smile atMonsieur le Curť and ask him to beseated whilst he went to see.
Then slowly, slowly, Blaise wouldtraverse the great hall, pass under thetorn and faded flags that drooped sadlylike dead things from the massiverafters and shaking his silver head andmurmuring to himself he would disappearon the great staircase lined witharmour.
And the old Curť would sit musingon the past, his eyes fixed on the tornflags that had once been borne inproud splendour at Pavie and Moncontour.
Then the little Odette in her flowingrobe would trip eagerly down thewide oak staircase, and making a lowreverence to the Curť, she would takehis hand, and together they would walkout into the rose garden that faced thesouth side of the chateau.
There, by a broken statue on arustic seat they would sit surroundedby clustering roses, and the Curť, withhis soft, low voice, would tell littleOdette beautiful stories about theSaints and the Virgin Mary.
But the story that Odette found themost wonderful of all, was the accountof the child Bernadette beholding theHoly Virgin in the mountains. This,for her, was the most perfect storyin the world, and with her quick,imaginative mind she would picturethe little peasant girl Bernadette returningto her parents’ distant dwelling,when suddenly in a ray of glorious light,the Holy Mary herself appeared on thelonely mountain path, like a beautifuldream.
Oh! how Odette wished that shecould have been little Bernadette!And she would delight to surmisewhat the little peasant girl looked like;whether her hair was brown, or whetherit was gold—and Odette was terriblydisappointed when asking the Curť thisquestion, that he only shook his headand said he did not know.
So the days slipped by quietly as onsilver wings. Madame d’Antrevernesalways in her high blue chair, her altarcloth between her hands, and littleOdette on a faded cushion dreaming ather feet.
Then one beautiful evening inAugust, as little Odette watched thetwo twin towers of the distant Cathedralflush purple in the setting sun, andthe great round dome of St. Martin’sChurch loom like a ripe apricot againstthe sky, a wonderful idea came to her.She, too, would seek the Holy Virgin.She, too, like little Bernadette, wouldspeak with the Holy Mary, the Motherof the Lord Seigneur Christ.
IT was the evening of theeventful night. For onewhole week Odette hadprayed steadfastly, andnow this evening shewas going to speak tothe Holy Mary in the rose garden, whenAunt Valerie and Fortune, Blaise, andMonsieur le Curť were all fast asleep.
She felt terribly excited as she kissedher aunt good-night, and tremblingwith a beautiful holy fear she allowedFortune to undress her and put her tobed.
Then for two long hours she watchedthe moonlight fall upon the dim bluefigure of Joan of Arc, for the frail summerfire that Fortune lit of an eveninghad long ago burnt itself out, and nowthe room was filled with mysteriousshadows and strange creakings offurniture, so that it was all Odettecould do not to be afraid. At last sheheard the gentle rustle of her aunt’sgown as she passed her door, andOdette could see the yellow light fromMadame d’Antreverne’s candle glintlike a fleeting star through the keyhole.Soon afterwards she heard theslow steps of Blaise cross the PictureGallery, and then a sudden silencefell upon the chateau only brokenby faint nocturnal noises from thegarden.
Odette sat up amid her pillowslistening. She felt her heart beating,beating, as if it were trying to escape.
Then silently she slipped from herbed, crossed to the window, and lookedout.
Perhaps the Virgin was alreadywaiting for her in the garden?
But she saw no one.
Far away she could see a few lightsshining like fallen stars in the town ofTours, and through the trees upon thelawn she saw the Loire glittering likean angel’s robe beneath the moon.
“How wicked to expect the HolyVirgin to wait for me,” thought Odette,“It is I that must wait for Her.”And fastening a fair silver cross abouther neck, she noiselessly opened thebedroom door, and found herself standingalone upon the great dark staircase.
To get to the garden it was necessaryto cross the Picture Gallery; for thePicture Gallery was at the top of thegreat staircase.
Odette trembled as she passed downthe long still Gallery where the portraitsof her ancestors peered eerilyfrom the panelled walls. But she wascomforted by the thought that Gabriellewas at the other end.
It was the picture of Gabrielled’Antrevernes, one of the beauties ofthe court of Louis XIV, that Odette lovedmost. And she never tired of lookingat the long pale face, the sea-blue eyes,and the dull gold hair capped withpearls, of her beautiful ancestress.
Odette adored the tired languid-lookinghands, full of deep red roses,that lay like two dead doves upon thesilver brocaded gown, and she wouldweave beautiful tales about Gabrielle,seated on her favourite cushion, peeringup at the portrait, her great eyeslost in thought.
But this evening she did not lingeras her custom was but with a friendlysmile to the beloved Gabrielle shehurried by, her cautious feet all a-pit-a-pat,a-pit-a-pat, on the parquet floor.
Then she went down the broad staircasebetween the pale armour, beneaththe brooding flags, and so to the glassdoor that led to the garden.
The door was locked, and oh! thedreadful creak it gave as Odette turnedthe key! and a pair of little exploringmice rushed helter-skelter, tumblingabout on the slippery floor.
Odette tremulously turned the handle,and suddenly she found herself aloneafter midnight in the garden.
Her heart beat so that she thoughtshe was going to die. But oh! howbeautiful the garden looked beneaththe moon! The roses seemed to lookmore mysterious by moon-shine. Theirperfume seemed more pure. Odettebent down and kissed a heavy crimsonrose all illumined with silver dew, andthen quickly she picked a great bouquetof flowers to offer to the Virgin. Someof the flowers were sleeping as shepicked them, and Odette thought, witha little thrill of delight, at their joy onawakening and finding themselves onthe Holy Mother’s breast.
Then, her arms full of flowers,Odette went and knelt down by the lowmarble seat, where so often Monsieurle Curť had spoken to her of the SaintMary and of Jesus, her Son. Andthere, with her eyes fixed upon thestars, she waited....
In the trees a nightingale sang sobeautifully that Odette felt the tearscome into her eyes, and then far awayanother bird sang back ... and thenboth together, in an ecstasy, mixedtheir voices in one, and the gardenseemed to Odette as if it were paradise.
Suddenly a low moan, like the soundof a breaking heart, made Odette startto her feet.
Could it be that the Holy Mother