THE WHITE OMEN

THE WHITE OMEN

"Ah, Monsieur, Monsieur, come quick!"

"My son, wilt thou not be patient?"

"But she--my Fanchon--and the child!"

"I knew thy Fanchon, and her father, when thou wast yet a child."

"But they may die before we come, Monsieur."

"These things are in God's hands, Gustave."

"You are not a father; you have never known what makes the world seem
nothing."

"I knew thy Fanchon's father."

"Is that the same?"

"There are those who save and those who die for others. Of thy love thou
wouldst save--the woman hath lain in thine arms, the child is of this.
But to thy Fanchon's father I was merely a priest--we had not hunted
together nor met often about the fire, and drew fast the curtains for the
tales which bring men close. He took me safely on the out-trail, but on
the home-trail he was cast away. Dost thou not think the love of him that
stays as great as the love of him that goes?"

"Ah, thou wouldst go far to serve my wife and child!"

"Love knows not distance; it hath no continent; its eyes are for the
stars, its feet for the swords; it continueth, though an army lay waste
the pasture; it comforteth when there are no medicines; it hath the
relish of manna; and by it do men live in the desert."

"But if it pass from a man, that which he loves, and he is left alone,
Monsieur?"

"That which is loved may pass, but love hath no end."

"Thou didst love my Fanchon's father?"

"I prayed him not to go, for a storm was on, but there was the thought of
wife and child on him--the good Michel--and he said: 'It is the
home-trail, and I must get to my nest.' Poor soul, poor soul! I who carry
my life as a leaf in autumn for the west wind was saved, and he--!"

"We are on the same trail now, Monsieur?"

"See: how soft a night, and how goodly is the moon!"

"It is the same trail now as then, Monsieur?"

"And how like velvet are the shadows in the gorge there below--like
velvet-velvet."

"Like a pall. He travelled this trail, Monsieur?"

"I remember thy Fanchon that night--so small a child was she, with deep
brown eyes, a cloud of hair that waved about her head, and a face that
shone like spring. I have seen her but once since then, and yet thou
sayest thy Fanchon has now her great hour, that she brings forth?"

"Yes. In the morning she cried out to me twice, for I am not easy of
waking--shame to me--and said: 'Gustave, thou shalt go for the priest
over the hills, for my time is at hand, and I have seen the White Omen on
the wall.' The White Omen--you know, Monsieur?"

"What does such as she with the legend of the White Omen, Gustave?"

"Who can tell what is in the heart of a mother? Their eyes are not the
eyes of such as we."

"Neither the eyes of man nor priest--thou sayest well. How did she see
it?"

"She was lying in a soft sleep, when something like a pain struck through
her eyes, and she waked. There upon the wall over the shrine was the
white arrow with the tuft of fire. It came and went three times, and then
she called me."

"What tale told the arrow to thy Fanchon, Gustave?"

"That for the child which cometh into the world a life must go from the
world."

"The world is wide and souls are many, Gustave."

"Most true; but her heart was heavy, and it came upon her that the child
might be spared and herself taken."

"Is not that the light of thy home--yonder against the bunch of firs?"

"Yes, yes, good father, they have put a light in the window. See, see,
there are two lights. Ah, merci, merci, they both live! She hath had her
hour! That was the sign our mother promised me."

"Michel's wife--ah, yes, Michel's wife! Blessed be God. A moment,
Gustave; let us kneel here . . ."

. . . "Monsieur, did you not see a white arrow shoot down the sky as the
prayer ended?"

"My son, it was a falling star."

"It seemed to have a tuft of fire."

"Hast thou also the mind of a woman, Gustave?"

"I cannot tell. If it was not a human soul it was a world, and death is
death."

"Thou shalt think of life, Gustave. In thy nest there are two birds where
was but one. Keep in thy heart the joy of life and the truth of love, and
the White Omen shall be naught to thee."

"May I say 'thou' as I speak?"

"Thou shalt speak as I speak to thee."

"Thy face is pale-art thou ill, mon pere?"

"I have no beard, and the moon shines in my face."

"Thy look is as that of one without sight."

"Nay, nay, I can see the two lights in thy window, my son."

"Joy--joy, a little while, and I shall clasp my Fanchon in my arms!"

"Thy Fanchon, and the child--and the child."

The fire sent a trembling glow through the room of a hut on a Voshti
hill, and the smell of burning fir and camphire wood filtered through the
air with a sleepy sweetness. So delicate and faint between the quilts lay
the young mother, the little Fanchon, a shining wonder still in her face,
and the exquisite touch of birth on her--for when a child is born the
mother also is born again. So still she lay until one who gave her into
the world stooped, and drawing open the linen at her breast, nestled a
little life there, which presently gave a tiny cry, the first since it
came forth. Then Fanchon's arms drew up, and, with eyes all tenderly
burning, she clasped the babe to her breast, and as silk breast touched
silk cheek, there sprang up in her the delight and knowledge that the
doom of the White Omen was not for herself. Then she called the child by
its father's name, and said into the distance: "Gustave, Gustave, come
back!"

And the mother of Fanchon, remembering one night so many years before,
said, under her breath: "Michel, Michel, thou art gone so long!"

With their speaking, Gustave and the priest entered on them; and Fanchon
crying out for joy, said:

"Kiss thy child--thy little Gustave, my husband." Then, to the priest:

"Last night I saw the White Omen, mon pere; and one could not die, nor
let the child die, without a blessing. But we shall both live now."

The priest blessed all, and long time he talked with the wife of the lost
Michel. When he rose to go to bed she said to him: "The journey has been
too long, mon pere. Your face is pale and you tremble. Youth has no
patience. Gustave hurried you."

"Gustave yearned for thy Fanchon and the child. The White Omen made him
afraid."

"But the journey was too much. It is a hard, a bitter trail."

"I have come gladly as I went once with thy Michel. But, as thou sayest,
I am tired--at my heart. I will get to my rest."

Near dawn Gustave started from the bed where he sat watching, for he saw
the White Omen over against the shrine, and then a voice said, as it were
out of a great distance:

"Even me also, O my father!"

With awed footsteps, going to see, he found that a man had passed out
upon that trail by which no hunter from life can set a mark to guide a
comrade; leaving behind the bones and flesh which God set up, too heavy
to carry on so long a journey.

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