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From Odette, A Fairy Tale for Weary People by Ronald Firbank; Grant Richards Limited, London; 1916.

Odette: A Fairy Tale
for Weary People


Illustrated letter I, with two figures on either sideN the long summer evenings, when the shadows crept slowly over the lawn, and the distant towers of the cathedral turned purple in the setting sun, little Odette d’Antrevernes would steal out from the old grey chateau to listen to the birds murmuring “good-night” to one another amongst the trees.

Far away, at the end of the long avenue of fragrant limes, wound the Loire, all amongst the flowery meadows and emerald vineyards, like a wonderful looking-glass reflecting all the sky; [2] and across the river, like an ogre’s castle in a fairy tale, frowned the chateau of Luynes, with its round grey turrets and its long, thin windows, so narrow, that scarcely could a princess in distress put forth her little white hand to wave to the true knight that should rescue her from her terrible fate.

Just until the sun disappeared behind the trees, veiled in a crimson cloud, little Odette would remain in the shadowy garden, then quickly and mysteriously she would slip back into the old grey chateau; where, in the long, dim drawing-room, before two wax candles, she would find her Aunt Valerie d’Antrevernes embroidering an altar cloth for the homely lichened village church, that once could see across the rose garden from the castle windows.

“Where have you been, my child?” her aunt would ask her, glancing up from the lace altar cloth that fell around her in a snowy cloud.


And Odette, in her pretty baby voice, would reply: “I have been listening to the birds saying their evening prayers,” and then silently she would sit on a low hassock at her aunt’s feet, and tell herself fairy stories until Fortune, her Creole nurse, should come and carry her off to bed.

Sometimes of an evening the old Curé of Bois-Fleuri would come to visit Madame d’Antrevernes, and little Odette would watch them as they talked, wondering all the while if Monsieur le Curé had really seen God. She had never dared ask.

Her aunt always sat in a high armchair of faded blue tapestry, embroidered in gold, with the family arms on a background of fleur-de-lys, and her pale, beautiful face, as it bent over the lace altar cloth, made little Odette think of angels and Holy Saints.

Odette had always seen her aunt thus, bending over an altar cloth for [4] God, so whenever she thought of Madame d’Antrevernes it was with a peculiar reverence that almost approached to awe.

One evening, when little Odette lay awake in her deep four-posted bed, watching the firelight dance upon the strange tapestry figures that covered the walls, she heard Fortune, her old nurse, talking to one of the servants. She caught her aunt’s name, then her own, and without realizing that she was doing wrong, she listened to what Fortune said.

She did not really understand what she heard, for she was watching the firelight as it shone upon a tall faded-looking lady in blue, who was regarding with outstretched arms the sky which was full of angels. All about the lady, in a field of red and white flowers, lay sleeping sheep. Her aunt had once told her that the faded-looking lady, whom Odette had imagined to be [5] the Lady Virgin herself, was Joan of Arc receiving the message from heaven to deliver France.

So as Odette watched the firelight dancing upon the faded tapestry, she listened, without knowing that she was listening to the voice of Fortune, who, in the next room, sat gossiping with another servant.

“She never seems able to forget him,” she heard Fortune say. “Ever since the day that Monsieur le Marquis killed Monsieur d’Antrevernes in a duel, Madame has never recovered.”

“She had scarcely been married a month, sweet soul, when her husband was brought home to her dead . . . and so beautiful he looked as he lay in the great hall, his eyes wide-open and smiling, just as if her were still alive. . . . Madame la Comtesse was in the rose garden at the time with Monsieur le Curé — no one knew where she was, and when suddenly she entered the [6] hall, her hands all full of summer roses, and saw her husband lying dead before her, she gave a terrible cry and fainted straight away. . . . For days after she hung between life and death, and then, when she at last got well again, she always seemed to be thinking of him, always seemed to be living in the past. Sometimes she would sit for hours in the garden staring in front of her, and smiling and talking to herself so that I used to feel afraid. Then a few years later, when the father and mother of the little Odette were drowned on their way back from India, Madame seemed to wake up from her long dream, as it were, and went to Paris to fetch Mademoiselle Odette from the convent of the Holy Dove.

Picture by Albert Buhrer, a man lying in a bed, with his arm falling out to the side, a cherub kneeling by the side with its arms around its eyes, and a lady in a Georgian gown looking up to heaven, walking away, accompanied by a skeleton, with a wooden staff and an overcoat.


Little Odette had fallen sleep berced by the lullaby of the old servant’s voice, and when next morning the risen sun shone in a shower of gold through the diamond-paned windows of her room, [7] and all the birds in the garden below were rejoicing amidst the trees, little Odette had forgotten the conversation she had overheard the previous night as she lay awake watching the firelight dancing upon the faded blue gown of the Maid of France.



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