Alphonse Daudet.

Letters from my mill; To which are added Letters to an absent one online

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LETTERS

FROM MY
MIL T ^ ^



Hittlt



Letters from My Mill

To which are added

Letters to an Absent One

By
Alphonse Daudet

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Illustrated by Paul Avril



Boston

Little, Brown, and Company
1901



REPLACING



Copyright, 1900,
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

All right* reserved.



JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.






CONTENTS.



J



LETTERS FROM MY MILL.

PAGE

PREAMBLE ix

TAKING POSSESSION i

-THE BEAUCAIRE DILIGENCE 5

THE SECRET OF MAITRE CORNILLE 10

M. SEGUIN'S GOAT . 18

THE STARS 27

THE ARLESIAN GIRL 35

yTHE POPE'S MULE 41

THE LIGHTHOUSE 55

THE WRECK OF THE " S^MILLANTE " 63

CUSTOM-HOUSE PEOPLE 72

THE CUR OF CUCUGNAN 78

AGED FOLK 86

PROSE BALLADS:

The Death of the Dauphin 96

The Sub-prefect in the Fields 100

BIXIOU'S PORTFOLIO 105

THE LEGEND OF THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN BRAIN . 112

THE POET MISTRAL 118

ORANGES 127

THE Two INNS 132

AT MILIANAH 138

THE LOCUSTS 153



533



J



vi Contents.

PAGH

THE ELIXIR OF THE REVEREND PERE GAUCHER ... 159

IN CAMARGUE . . 172

BARRACK HOMESICKNESS 186

LETTERS TO AN ABSENT ONE.

THE SURRENDER 193

THE DICTATORS 199

A MUSHROOM BED OF GREAT MEN 204

ROCHEFORT AND ROSSIGNOL 211

THE SENTRY-BOX 218

THE TRICOTEUSE . 225

A YEAR OF TROUBLE 233



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

Photogravured by Goupil 6* Co., Paris.

" Again 't was the terrible bandit, Count Severan, whom

he drove to his eyrie on the heights " . . Frontispiece
Drawn by Paul Avril.

" She stayed thus, never moving, till the stars in the

sky grew pale " 34

Drawn by Paul Avril.

Fre'de'ric Mistral 118

From a Photograph.

" Overcome at last, he let himself fall into a big arm-
chair" 168

Drawn by Paul Avril.



PREAMBLE.

BEFORE Mattre Honorat Grapazi, notary of the
district of Pamperigouste

Appeared :

The Sieur Gaspard Mitifio, husband of Vivette
Cornille, owner of the property called " Les
Cigalieres" and there residing:

The same by these presents has sold and con-
veyed under warranty of right and possession, free
of all debt, claims and mortgages,

To the Sieur Alphonse Daudet, poet, residing
in Paris, here present and accepting,

A windmill for flour, situated in the valley of the
Rhone, and in the heart of Provence, on a hillside,
wooded with pine and live-oak ; the said mill being
abandoned for twenty years or more, and therefore
unfit for grinding, as appears from the wild vines,
mosses, rosemarys, and other parasitical growths
which have climbed its sails ;

Notwithstanding which, such as it is and appears
with its great wheel broken and its platform where
the grass is growing between the bricks, the Sieur
Daudet declares that finding the said mill to his
liking and serviceable to his works of poesy, he



x Preamble.

accepts the same at his risks and perils, and with-
out any claim whatsoever against the vendor for.
repairs which may have to be made.

This sale is concluded in the lump for the sum
agreed upon, which the Sieur Daudet placed and
deposited on the desk in current coin, the which
sum was immediately touched and withdrawn by
the Sieur Mitifio, within sight of the undersigned
notary and witnesses, for which receipt is given.

Deed done at Pampe>igouste in the office of
Honorat Grapazi, in presence of Francet Mama'f,
fife-player, and Louiset, called le Quique, cross-
bearer of the White Penitents ;

Who have signed with the parties and the no-
tary after reading of the deed.



LETTERS FROM MY MILL.



TAKING POSSESSION.

' T WAS the rabbits who were astonished ! So
long had they seen the mill-door closed, the walls
and the platform invaded by verdure, that they had
come to think the race of millers was extinct ; and
finding the place convenient, they made it, as it
were, a sort of headquarters, a centre of strategi-
cal operations, the Jemmapes mill of rabbits.
The night of my arrival, there were fully, with-
out exaggeration, a score sitting in a circle on
the platform, warming their paws in the moon-
shine. One second to open a window, and, scat !
away went the bivouac, routed ; all the little white
behinds scurrying away, tails up, into the thicket.
I hope they will come back again.

Another much astonished individual was the
tenant of the first floor, a solemn old owl with
the head of a thinker, who has lived in the mill
for over twenty years. I found him in the upper
chamber, motionless and erect on the horizontal
shaft, in the midst of the plaster rubbish and fallen
roof-tiles. He looked at me for a moment with his






2 Letters from My Mill.

round eye ; then, alarmed at not knowing me, he
began to say, " Hoo ! hoo ! " and to shake his
wings heavily, gray with dust those devilish
thinkers ! they never brush themselves. . . Well !
never mind, whatever he is, with his blinking eyes
and his scowling look, this silent tenant pleased
me, and I hastened to beg him to renew his lease.
He now occupies, as before, the whole upper part
of the mill with an entrance from the roof; I re-
serve to myself the lower room, a small white-
washed room, low and vaulted like a convent
refectory.

It is from there that I write to you, with the
door wide open to the good sun.

A pretty pine wood, sparkling with light, runs
down before me to the foot of the slope. On the
horizon, the Alpilles outline their delicate crests.
No noise. Faintly, afar, the sound of a fife, a cur-
lew amid the lavender, the mule-bells on the high-
way. . . All this beautiful ProvenQal landscape
lives by light.

And now, think you I could regret your noisy,
darksome Paris ? I am so well-off in my mill ! It
is so exactly the spot I was looking for, a warm
little fragrant corner, far from newspapers, cabs,
and fog ! . . And what pretty things about me !
It is scarcely a week since I came, and yet my
head is already stuffed full of impressions and
memories. Tenez ! no later than last evening I
watched the return of the flocks to the mas (farm)
which stands at the foot of the slope; and I de-



Taking Possession. 3

clare to you I would not give that sight for all the
" first nights " that you have had in Paris this
week. You shall judge.

I must tell you that in Provence it is the custom,
as it is in Switzerland, to send the flocks to the
mountains on the coming of hot weather. Ani-
mals and men spend five or six months up there
under the stars, in grass to their bellies; then,
at the first chill of autumn, down they come to the
mas and feed after that on the little gray foot-hills
that are fragrant with rosemary. So last night
they came. The gates awaited them, wide open ;
the folds were filled with fresh straw. From hour
to hour the people said : " Now they are at Eygui-
eres now at the Paradou." Then, all of a sud-
den, towards evening, a great shout : " Here they
come ! " and away off in the distance I could see
the flocks advancing in a halo of dust. The whole
road seemed to be marching with them. The old
rams came first, horns in front with a savage air ;
after them the ruck of the sheep, the mothers
rather weary, their nurslings beside them; the
mules, with red pompons, carrying in baskets
the day-old lambkins, which they rocked as they
walked ; then came the dogs, their tongues to
earth, perspiring, and two tall shepherd rascals
swathed in red serge mantles which fell to their
heels like copes.

All this defiles before me joyously with a pat-
tering sound like rain, and is swallowed through
the gateway. You should see what excitement
in the farm ! From their high perches the green



4 Letters from My Mill.

and gold peacocks with their tulle crests, have
recognized the new-comers and hail them with,
a formidable trumpet-blast. The poultry yard,
which was going to sleep, wakes up with a start.
All are afoot, pigeons, ducks, turkeys, guinea-fowl.
They all seem crazy; even the hens talk of sitting
up all night ! One would really think that each
sheep had brought back in its wool with the fra-
grance of the wild Alp a little of that keen moun-
tain air which intoxicates and sets one dancing.

In the midst of all this racket, the flocks regain
their abode. Nothing can be more charming than
this re-entrance. The old rams are tenderly moved
at seeing their old cribs; the lambs, even the little
ones born on the journey who had never seen the
farm, look about them in amazement.

But most touching of all are the dogs, those
brave shepherd dogs, full of business about their
flocks and seeing nought else in the mas. In vain
does the watch-dog call to them from his kennel ;
the well-bucket full of fresh water entices them in
vain ; they see nothing, hear nothing till the flocks
are housed, the big bolt run on the wicket gate,
and the shepherds at table in the lower room.
Then and not till then, they consent to go to
kennel, and there, while lapping their porringers
of soup, they tell their farm comrades what things
they have done up there on the mountains, a
gloomy place, where there are wolves, and great
crimson foxgloves full of dew to the brim.



The Beaucaire Diligence.



II.

THE BEAUCAIRE DILIGENCE.

IT was the day of my arrival at this place. I
had taken the diligence of Beaucaire, a worthy
old vehicle that has no great distance to go before
she gets home, but which loiters, nevertheless, by
the way, to have an air, in the evening, of coming
from afar. We were five on the imperial, not
counting the conductor.

First, a keeper of the Camargue, a small, stocky,
hairy man, smelling of his wild life, with big,
bloodshot eyes and silver ear-rings. Then two
Beaucairese, a baker and his journeyman, both
very red, very short-winded, but splendid in profile,
two Roman coins bearing the effigy of Vitellius.
Lastly, on the front seat, beside the conductor, a
man no, a cap, an enormous squirrel-skin cap,
who said little or nothing and gazed at the road
with a melancholy air.

All these persons knew each other, and talked
aloud of their affairs very freely. The man of the
Camargue told that he was coming from Nimes,
where he had been summoned before an examin-
ing-judge to answer for a blow with a scythe given
to a shepherd. They have such hot blood in
Camargue ! and in Beaucaire too ! Did not
these very two Beaucairese try to cut each other's



6 Letters from My Mill.

throats apropos of the Blessed Virgin? It seemed
that the baker belonged to a parish church that
was vowed to the Madonna, the one whom the
Provencals call " the good mother" and who car-
ries the little Jesus in her arms. The journeyman,
on the contrary, sang in the choir of a new church
dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, that beau-
tiful smiling image represented with pendent arms
and her hands full of sun-rays. Hence the quarrel.
You ought to have seen how those two good
Catholics treated each other, they and their
madonnas :

" She is a pretty one, your immaculate ! "

" Get away with your good mother ! "

" She saw queer things, that one of yours, in
Palestine ! "

" And yours, hoo ! the fright ! Who knows
what she didn't do? Ask Saint Joseph."

As if to remind me of the harbour of Naples,
knives were on the point of glittering, and, upon
my word, I believe the theological battle would
have ended that way if the conductor had not
come to the rescue.

" Let us alone with your madonnas," he said, laugh-
ing, to the two Beaucairese ; " all that is women's
talk, men should n't meddle in such things."

Thereupon he cracked his whip with a scepti-
cal little air which brought every one round to his
opinion.

The discussion ended ; but the baker, set a-go-
ing, felt the need of letting out the remains of



The Beaucaire Diligence. 7

his ardour ; so, turning to the unfortunate cap, sad
and silent in his corner, he said with a jeering air :

" And your wife, knife-grinder, what parish does
she belong to now? "

It is to be supposed that some very comical
meaning was in those words, for the whole impe-
rial went off into roars of laughter. The knife-
grinder alone did not laugh. He seemed not to
hear. Observing that, the baker turned to me.

" You don't know about his wife, monsieur ; a
queer one, I can tell you. There are not two like
her in all Beaucaire."

The laughs redoubled. The knife-grinder did
not stir ; he contented himself by saying in a low
voice :

" Hold your tongue, baker."

But that devil of a baker had no idea of holding
his tongue, and he began again, more jeering than
ever :

" Vitdase ! The comrade is not to be pitied for
having a wife like that. Can't be bored one minute
with her. Just think ! a beauty who gets some one
to elope with her every six months has plenty to
tell you when she comes back. But for all that,
it is a queer little household. Just imagine, mon-
sieur, they hadn't been married a year when, paf!
away went the wife to Spain with a chocolate-
maker. The husband, he stayed at home, weep-
ing and drinking. He was almost crazy. By and
by the wife came home, dressed as a Spanish girl
and carrying a tambourine. We all said to her:
' Hide, hide, he '11 kill you ! ' Kill her, indeed ! not



8 Letters from My Mill.

he ! They lived together as tranquil as ever, and
she taught him to play the tambourine."

Here a fresh explosion of laughter. In his
corner, without raising his head, the knife-grinder
murmured again :

" Hold your tongue, baker."

The baker paid no attention, but continued :

" You may perhaps think, monsieur, that after
her return from Spain the beauty would have kept
quiet. Not she ! The husband had taken the
thing so well, she thought she would try again.
After the Spaniard came an officer, then a Rhone
boatman, then a musician, then a I don't know
who. The funny thing is that each time it is the
same comedy. The wife elopes, the husband
weeps ; she returns and he 's consoled. And still
she is carried off, and still he takes her back. Don't
you think he has patience, that husband ? It must
be said that she is mighty pretty, that little woman,
a cardinal's dainty bit, lively, dimpled, plump, with
a white skin 7 and a pair of nut-brown eyes that look
at the men with a laugh. F faith, Parisian, if you
ever come back through Beaucaire "

" Oh ! hold your tongue, baker, I beg of you,"
said the unfortunate man again, in a heart-rending
tone of voice.

At this moment the diligence stopped. We
had reached the mas des Angloires. The two
bakers got out, and I assure you I did not regret
them. Sorry jester! We could hear him still
laughing in the farm-yard.

The bakers having departed and the Camargue



The Beaucaire Diligence. 9

man being left at Aries, the imperial seemed empty.
The conductor got down and walked beside his
horses. We were alone in our corners, the knife-
grinder and I, without speaking. It was hot ; the
leather hood of the vehicle seemed burning. At
times I felt my eyes closing and my head getting
heavy, but I could not sleep. Always in my ears
I heard that " Hold your tongue, I beg of you,"
so gentle yet so agonizing. Neither could he, the
poor soul, sleep. From behind I saw his big
shoulders shudder and his hand a long, pallid,
stupid hand trembling on the back of the seat,
like the hand of an aged man. He wept.

" Here you are, at your place, Parisian," cried
the conductor, suddenly, pointing with the end of
his whip to my green hill with the windmill
pinned upon it like a big butterfly.

I hastened to get out. Passing the knife-grinder
I tried to look at him beneath his cap ; I wanted
to see him before I left. As if he had fathomed
my thought, the unhappy man raised his head
abruptly and planting his eyes in mine he said in
a hollow voice :

" Look at me well, friend ; and if, one of these
days, you hear there has been trouble in Beaucaire
you can say that you know the man who struck the
blow."

The face was dull and sad, with small and faded
eyes. There were tears in those eyes ; but in the
voice there was hatred. Hatred is the anger of
the weak ! If I were that wife, I should beware
of it.



io Letters from My MilL



III.
THE SECRET OF MAlTRE CORNILLE.

FRANCET MAMAI, an old fife-player, who comes
from time to time to make a night of it with me,
drinking boiled wine, related the other evening
a little village drama of which my mill was the wit-
ness some twenty years ago. The old man's story
touched me, and I shall try to tell it to you just as
I heard it.

Imagine, for the moment, my dear readers, that
you are sitting before a pot of fragrant wine and
that an old Provencal fife-player is speaking to
you.

Our countryside, my good monsieur, was not
always such a dead region and without renown as
it is to-day. There was a time when the millers
did a great trade, and from ten leagues round the
farmers brought us their wheat to grind. The
hills all about the village were covered with wind-
mills. To right and left one saw nothing but sails
twirling to the mistral above the pines, strings of
little donkeys laden with sacks going up and down
the roads ; and all the week it was a pleasure to
hear on the heights the crack of the whips, the
rattle of the sails and the Dia hue ! of the millers'



The Secret of Mattre Cornille. 1 1

men. On Sundays we went to the mills in parties.
The millers, they paid for the muscat. The wives
were as fine as queens, with their lace kerchiefs
and their gold crosses. I took my fife and till
it was pitch-dark night they danced the farandole.
Those mills, you see, they made the joy and the
wealth of our parts.

Unluckily the Paris Frenchmen took an idea
to establish a steam flour-mill on the road to Taras-
con. Fine thing, great novelty ! People took a
habit of sending their wheat to the flour-dealers,
and the poor windmills were left without work.
For some time they tried to struggle, but steam
was the stronger, and, one after the other, ptcaire !
they were forced to shut up. No more files of
little donkeys. The handsome wives had to sell
their gold crosses. No more muscat! no more
farandole ! The mistral might blow, but the sails
stood still. And then, one fine day, the village
rulers ordered all those mills pulled down and
their place to be sown with vines and olives.

But in the midst of this general downfall one
mill held good and continued to turn courageously
on its knoll before the very nose of the steam-
millers. That was Maitre Cornille's mill, the very
one where we are at this moment.

Maitre Cornille was an old miller, living for
sixty years in flour and mad for his business.
The coming of the steam-millers had really made
him half crazy. For a week he ran about the
village inciting the people and shouting with all



1 2 Letters from My Mill.

his might that they wanted to poison Provence
with steam flour. " Don't go there," he cried ;
" those brigands in making bread use steam, an
invention of the devil, whereas I work by the
mistral and the tramontana, which are the breath
of the good God." And he spoke out a lot of fine
sayings like that in praise of the windmills, but
noboay listened to them.

Then, in a fury, the old fellow shut himself up in
his mill and lived alone, like a savage beast. He
would not even keep his little granddaughter,
Vivette, with him, a child of fifteen, who, since
the death of her parents, had no one but her
grand in the world. The poor little thing was now
obliged to earn her living, and to hire herself out
in the farms wherever she could, for the harvest,
the silk-worm times, and the olive-picking. And
yet her grandfather seemed to love her, that child.
He would often go his four leagues afoot, in the
hot sun to see her at the farm where she worked ;
and when he was near her he would spend whole
hours gazing at her and weeping.

In the neighbourhood, people thought that the
old miller was niggardly in sending Vivette away,
and they said that it did not do him credit to let
his granddaughter roam from one farmhouse to
another, exposed to the brutality of the bailiffs
and to all the miseries of young girls in her condi-
tion. And they also thought it very wrong of
Maitre Cornille, who up to this time had respected
himself, to go about the streets like a regular
gypsy, barefooted, cap in holes, and trousers



The Secret of Mattre Cornille. 1 3

ragged. In fact, on Sundays, when we saw him
come in to mass, we were ashamed of him, we
old fellows ; and Cornille felt it so much that he
dared not come and sit upon the workmen's bench.
He always stayed at the end of the church, close
to the holy-water basin, among the paupers.

In Maitre Cornille's life there was something
we could not make out. For a long time past no
one in the village had taken him wheat, yet the
sails of his mill were always turning, as before.
At night the old miller was met upon the roads,
driving before him his donkey laden with stout
sacks of flour.

" Good vespers, Maitre Cornille ! " the peasants
would call to him. " So the mill is going still?"

" Going still, my sons," the old fellow answered
with a lively air. " Thank God, it is not work that
we lack."

Then, if any one asked him where the devil he
found all that work, he would lay a ringer on his
lips and answer, gravely : " Mum 's the word ! I
am working for exportation." And never could
anything further be got out of him.

As for putting your nose in his mill, that was not
to be thought of. Little Vivette herself was not
allowed to enter.

If we passed in front of it, the door was always
seen to be closed, the heavy sails were in motion,
the old donkey was browsing on the turf of the
platform, and a tall, thin cat, taking the sun on the
sill of the window, looked at us malignantly.

All this had the scent of some mystery about it,



14 Letters from My Mill.

and made people gossip. Every one explained in
his own way the secret of Maitre Cornille, but the
general rumour was that there were even more
sacks of silver crowns in the mill than sacks of
flour.

In the end, however, all was found out ; and this
was how:

I discovered, one fine day, while making the
young people dance with my fife, that the eldest
of my sons and little Vivette were in love with each
other. In my heart I was n't sorry, because, after
all, the name of Cornille was held in honour among
us, and, besides, I knew it would give me pleasure
to see that pretty little sparrow of a Vivette hop-
ping about my house. Only, as the lovers had
many occasions to be together, I wished, for fear
of accidents, to settle the thing at once. So up I
went to the mill to say a word or two to the grand-
father. Ah ! the old wizard ! you should just
have seen the way he received me ! Impossible
to make him open the door. I explained the mat-
ter as well as I could through the keyhole; and
all the while that I was speaking, that rascally lean
cat was puffing like a devil above my head.

The old man did n't give me time to finish, but
shouted to me, most uncivilly, to get back to my
fife, and that if I was in such a hurry to marry my
son, I could go and get a girl at the steam-mill.
You can think if my blood did n't rise to hear such
words ; but, all the same, I had wisdom enough to
control myself, and, leaving the old madman in his



The Secret of Maltre Cornille. 1 5

mill, I returned to tell the children of my failure.
Poor lambs ! they could not believe it ; they begged
me, as a favour, to let them go to the mill them-
selves and speak to grandpapa. I had n't the
courage to refuse, and prrrt ! off went my lovers.

When they got to the mill, Maitre Cornille had
just gone out. The door was locked and double-
locked, but the old man had left his ladder outside,
and immediately the idea came to the children to
get in through the window and see what was really
going on inside of the famous mill.

Singular thing ! the room of the millstone was
empty. Not a sack, not a grain of wheat, not the
slightest sign of flour on the walls or the spiders'
webs ! There was not even that good warm smell
of crushed wheat that scents a mill so pleasantly.
The horizontal bar was covered with dust, and the
great lean cat was sleeping on it.

The lower room had the same air of utter pov-
erty and abandonment, a wretched bed, a few
rags, a morsel of bread on a step of the stair-
way, and, in a corner, three or four worn-out
sacks, from which oozed plaster rubbish and chalky
earth.

There was the secret of Mattre Cornille ! It was
plaster rubbish that he carried in the evening
along the roads to save the honour of the mill and
to make believe it was grinding flour ! Poor mill !
Poor Cornille ! For many a long day the steam-


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Online LibraryAlphonse DaudetLetters from my mill; To which are added Letters to an absent one → online text (page 1 of 14)