Signa, by Ouida

Chapter 13.

A LITTLE later the girl had her linen plunged in the cold deep water, and stood washing with half a dozen other women. To keep her brothers from want and a roof over all their heads, she had to take any and all work as it came; the rough with the smooth. She got a little something — washing the shirts and shifts of peasants too busy with field work to have time to do it for themselves, and Palma’s linen was always white, and always was well wrung out and dried.

Here and there on the hills there are these big water places, like the stone tanks that the women wash at in the streets of Rome. Only these tanks upon the hills are in wide wooden sheds, and have the green country shining through the doors of lattice‐work.

Palma was washing among the other women, the water was splashing and bubbling, the sun was shining, the wind was whistling, the tongues were chattering, she alone of all was silent, her bare arms in the cold brown pool.

“You are wanted,” the women said to her, surprised, for no one ever wanted her, unless, indeed, as they wanted the mule or the cart‐horse: she left the linen soaking, and went outside the wooden door.

Bruno stood there.

He put a little picture in her hand.

“Have ever you seen any one like that?” he asked her, covering all but the face of it. Palma’s brown cheek grew ashen: then the blood rushed over her forehead.

“What is it? Where did you get it?”

“Whom is it like?”

“It is like — Gemma; only it is a woman.”

“Yes, it is a woman.”

He laughed a little, and took his hand away and left the figure of the dancer of Istriel visible.

Palma coloured over her throat and up to her dusky growing hair.

“It is a shameful woman. Oh, why did you show me that?”

“It is only a picture,” said Bruno, moodily, and he pitched it into the water that flowed and foamed outside the washing‐house. She caught his arm.

“Why did you show it me? Do you know anything? Do you mean anything?”

“Nothing. It is only a picture.”

And he walked away.

She leant over the tank and reached and plucked it out from the water; it was a photograph, and the moisture ran off, and did not harm it. She stood and looked at it. She was alone against the white brick wall, her rough, blue skirt clung wet and close to her; she had a red handkerchief over her short cropped hair; the wind blew over her naked feet and her bared arms; the wide green hills were behind her, the brown wooden door of the shed before her; there was a cold azure sky above the golden budding trees.

She stood and looked at the picture. Her face burned, though she was all alone. She shuddered and hated it.

“He is a hard, cruel man,” she said. “How could he bring me such a thing? My Gemma is safe with Christ.”

Then she threw the picture in the water again, and as it floated put a great stone on it and sunk it, and as it rose, flung another greater stone, and then another, and then another, until the picture dropped under it like a drowned dead thing, and lay at the bottom with the mud and weeds. She felt as if she slew a devil.

 

“My Gemma is with Christ,” she said; and she went back to the washing women and the hard work and the coarse linen, while the winter sun shone, and the winter wind blew.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/ouida/signa/v3.13.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 21:06