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BIBLIOTHÈQUE
DES CHEFS-D'OEUVRE
DU ROMAN
CONTEMPORAIN


_KING OF CAMARGUE_


JEAN AICARD


PRINTED FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY BY
GEORGE BARRIE & SONS, PHILADELPHIA


COPYRIGHT, 1901, BY GEORGE BARRIE & SON



THIS EDITION OF

KING OF CAMARGUE

HAS BEEN COMPLETELY TRANSLATED
BY

GEORGE B. IVES


THE ETCHINGS ARE BY

LOUIS V. RUET


AND DRAWINGS BY

GEORGE ROUX




CHEFS-D'OEUVRE
DU
ROMAN CONTEMPORAIN


ROMANCISTS




THIS EDITION

DEDICATED TO THE HONOR OF THE

ACADÉMIE FRANÇAISE

IS LIMITED TO ONE THOUSAND NUMBERED AND REGISTERED
SETS, OF WHICH THIS IS

NUMBER 358




THE ROMANCISTS

JEAN AICARD

KING OF CAMARGUE




[Illustration: Chapter VI

_This woman had a way of looking at people that disconcerted
them. You would say that a sharp, threatening flame shot from
her eyes. It penetrated your being, searched your heart, and
you were powerless against it._]




TO ÉMILE TRÉLAT


My Very Dear Friend:

Permit me to dedicate this book to you, whose incomparable friendship
has been to the poet, obstinate in his idealism, of hourly assistance,
a constant proof of the reality of true generosity and kindness of
heart.

Jean Aicard.

_La Garde, near Toulon, April 11, 1890._




Contents


PAGE
I LIVETTE AND ZINZARA 3

II IN CAMARGUE 13

III THE DROVERS 21

IV THE SÉDEN 27

V THE LOVERS 39

VI RAMPAL 51

VII THE MEETING 57

VIII ON THE BENCH 73

IX THE PRAYER 83

X THE TERRACE 91

XI THE HIDING-PLACE 99

XII A SORCERESS 121

XIII THE SNAKE-CHARMER 143

XIV JOUSTING 165

XV MONSIEUR LE CURÉ'S ARCHÆOLOGY 177

XVI ON THE ROOF OF THE CHURCH 205

XVII THE OLD WOMAN 219

XVIII THE BLESSED RELICS 231

XIX THE BRANDING 247

XX THE SNARE 261

XXI HERODIAS 279

XXII IN THE NEST 291

XXIII THE PURSUIT 303

XXIV IN THE GARGATE 323

XXV THE PHANTOM 331

NOTES 345




List of Illustrations

KING OF CAMARGUE


PAGE
RAMPAL AND THE GIPSY _Fronts._

RENAUD IN THE TOILS OF THE QUEEN 64

LIVETTE AND RENAUD 88

LIVETTE WATCHES ON THE CHURCH ROOF 216

THE GIPSY'S COUCH 312




KING OF CAMARGUE




I

LIVETTE AND ZINZARA


A shadow suddenly darkened the narrow window. Livette, who was running
hither and thither, setting the table for supper, in the lower room of
the farm-house of the Château d'Avignon, gave a little shriek of
terror, and looked up.

The girl had an instinctive feeling that it was neither father nor
grandmother, nor any of her dear ones, but some stranger, who sought
amusement by thus taking her by surprise.

Nor a stranger, either, for that matter, - it was hardly possible! - But
how was it that the dogs did not yelp? Ah! this Camargue is frequented
by bad people, especially at this season, toward the end of May, on
account of the festival of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which attracts,
like a fair, such a crowd of people, thieves and gulls, and so many
mischievous gipsies!

The figure that was leaning on the outside of the window-sill,
shutting out the light, looked to Livette like a black mass, sharply
outlined against the blue sky; but by the thick, curly hair,
surmounted by a tinsel crown, by the general contour of the bust, by
the huge ear-rings with an amulet hanging at the ends, Livette
recognized a certain gipsy woman who was universally known as the
Queen, and who, for nearly two weeks, had been suddenly appearing to
people at widely distant points on the island, always unexpectedly, as
if she rose out of the ditches or clumps of thorn-broom or the water
of the swamps, to say to the laborers, preferably the women: "Give me
this or that;" for the Queen, as a general rule, would not accept what
people chose to offer her, but only what she chose that they should
offer her.

"Give me a little oil in a bottle, Livette," said the young gipsy,
darting a dark, flashing glance at the pretty girl with the fair,
sun-flecked hair.

Livette, charitable as she was at every opportunity, at once felt that
she must be on her guard against this vagabond, who knew her name. Her
father and grandmother had gone to Arles, to see the notary, who would
soon have to be drawing up the papers for her marriage to Renaud, the
handsomest drover in all Camargue. She was alone in the house.
Distrust gave her strength to refuse.

"Our Camargue isn't an olive country," said she curtly, "oil is scarce
here. I haven't any."

"But I see some in the jar at the bottom of the cupboard, beside the
water-pitcher."

Livette turned hastily toward the cupboard. It was closed; but, in
truth, the stock of olive oil was there in a jar beside the one in
which they kept Rhône water for their daily needs.

"I don't know what you mean," said Livette.

"The lie came from your mouth like a vile black wasp from a
garden-flower, little one!" said the motionless figure, still leaning
heavily on the window-sill, evidently determined to remain. "The oil
is where I say it is, and more than twenty-five litres too; I can see
it from here. Come, come, take a clean bottle and the tin funnel and
give me quickly what I want. I'll tell you, in exchange, what I see in
your future."

"It's a deadly sin to seek to know what God doesn't wish us to know,"
said Livette, "and you can guess that oil is kept in cupboards and
still be no more of a sorceress than I am. Go about your business,
good-wife. I can give you some of this bread, fresh baked last night,
if you wish, but I tell you I haven't any oil."

"And why do they call you Livette," said the Queen calmly, "if it
isn't on account of the field of old olive-trees - the oldest and
finest in the country - owned by your father, near Avignon? There you
were born. There you remained until you were ten years old, and at
that age - seven years ago, a mystic number - you came here, where your
father was made farmer, overseer of drovers, manager of everything, by
the Avignonese master of this 'Château d'Avignon,' the finest in all
Camargue. - 'Livettes! livettes!' that's the way you used to ask for
_olivettes_, olives, when you were a baby. You were very fond of them,
and the nickname clung to you. A pretty nickname, on my word, and one
that suits you well, for if you're not dark like the ripe olive,
you're fair as the virgin oil, a pearl of amber in the sunlight, and
then you are not yet ripe. Your face is oval, and not stupidly round
like a Norman apple. You have the pallor of the olive-leaves seen from
below. - And that you may soon see them so, little one, is the blessing
I ask for you, as the curés of your chapels say, where they take us in
for pity. Be compassionate as they are, in the name of your Lord Jesus
Christ, and give me some oil quickly, I say - in the name of extreme
unction and the garden of agony!"

The gipsy had said all this without stopping to breathe, in a dull,
monotonous, muffled voice, but she added abruptly in loud, piercing,
incisive tones: "Do you understand what I say?" imparting to those
simple words an extraordinarily imperious and violent expression.
Livette hastily crossed herself.

"Come, enough of this!" said she, "I have nothing here for you, and we
keep the oil of extreme unction for better Christians! Begone, pagan,
begone!" she added, trying to counterfeit courage.

"Of the three holy women," continued the gipsy, "who took ship, after
the death of Jesus Christ, to escape the crucifying Jews, one was
like myself, an Egyptian and a fortune-teller. She knew the science of
the Magi, of those with whom great Moses contended for mastery in
witchcraft. She could, at will, order the frogs to be more numerous
than the drops of water in the swamps, and she held in her hand a rod
which, at her word, would change to a viper. Before Jesus she bowed,
as did Magdalen, and Jesus loved her too. In the tempest, as they were
crossing the sea, her wand pointed out the course to follow, and, to
do that with safety, had no need to be very long. Must you have more
pledges of my power and my knowledge? What more must I tell you to
induce you to give me the oil I need so much? If you were a man, I
would say: 'Look! I am dark, but I am beautiful! I am a descendant of
that Sara the Egyptian who, when the boat of the three holy women drew
near the sands of Camargue, paid the boatman by showing him her
undefiled body, stripped naked, with no thought of evil and without
sin, but knowing well that true beauty is rare and that the mere sight
of it is better than all the treasures of Solomon. So be it!'"

Livette was thoroughly alarmed. The gipsy's assurance, her hollow,
penetrating voice, imperious by fits and starts, these strange tales
filled with evil words on sacred subjects, this devilish mixture of
things pagan and things mystic, the consciousness of her own
loneliness, all combined to terrify her. She lost her head.

"Away with you, away with you," she cried, "queen of robbers! queen
of brigands! away with you, or I will call for help!"

"Your drover won't hear you; he's tending his drove to-day beside the
Vaccarès. Come, give me the oil, I say, or I'll throw this black wand
on the ground, and you will see how snakes bite!"

But Livette, brave and determined, said: "No!" shuddering as she said
it, and, to glean a little comfort, cast a glance at the low beam
along which her father's gun was hanging. The gipsy saw the glance.

"Oh! I am not afraid of your gun," said she, "and to prove it - wait a
moment!"

She left the window. The light streamed into the room, bringing a
little courage to Livette's terrified heart, as she followed the gipsy
with her eyes. In the bright light of that beautiful May evening, the
gipsy woman stood out, a tall figure, against the distant, unbroken
horizon line of the Camargue desert, which could be seen through a
vista between the lofty trees of the park.

Livette felt a thrill of joy as she saw a troop of mares trotting
along the horizon, followed by their driver, spear in air - Jacques
Renaud, her fiancé, without doubt. - But how far away he was! the
horses, from where she stood, looked smaller than a flock of little
goats. And her eyes came back to the gipsy queen. A few steps from the
farm-house, in front of the seigniorial château, a huge square
structure, with numerous windows, long closed, - a structure of the
sort that arouses thoughts of neglect and death and the grave, - the
gipsy stood on tiptoe, drawing down the lowest branch of a thorn-tree.
The thorns were long, as long as one's finger. With a twig of a tree
of that species the crown of the Crucified One was made.

She broke off a twig thickset with thorns, bent it into a circle,
twisting the two ends together like serpents, and returned to the
window.

Livette noticed at that moment that the two watch-dogs were following
the gipsy, with their tails between their legs, their noses close to
her heels, with little affectionate whines. And she, the gipsy Queen,
as slender as haughty, erect upon her legs, in a ragged skirt with
ample folds through the holes in which could be seen a bright red
petticoat, her bust enveloped in orange-colored rags crossed below her
well-rounded breasts, her amulets tinkling at her ears, medallions
jangling on her forehead, which was encircled by a gaudy fillet of
copper, - she, the Queen, came forward, holding in her hand the crown
of long stiff thorns, to which a few tiny green leaves clung in
quivering festoons; - and in a low, very low tone, she murmured the
same caressing plaint that the two great cowed dogs were murmuring,
saying to them, in their own language, mysterious things they
understood.

"Take this," said the gipsy, "let your kind heart be rewarded as it
deserves! Misfortune, which is at work for you, will soon make itself
known to you. How, may God tell you! In love, the wind that blows for
you is poisoned by the swamps. The charity your God enjoins is, so
they say, another form of love that brings true love good fortune. And
here is my queenly gift!"

She threw the crown of thorns through the window at Livette's feet.

"Madame!" exclaimed Livette in dismay.

But the gipsy had disappeared.

Infinite distress filled the poor child's heart. With her eyes fixed
on the crown, Livette recalled the legends in which the good Lord
Jesus appears disguised as a beggar - and in which He rewards those who
have received Him with sweet compassion.

In one of those legends, the Poor Man, welcomed with harsh words,
subjected to mockery and cowardly insults, struck with staves and
goblets and bottles thrown by drunken revellers - at last, standing
against the wall, begins to be transformed into a Christ upon the
Cross, bleeding at the holes in his hands and feet! - And, sick with
terror, she asked herself if she had not received with unkindness one
of the three holy women who, after the death of Jesus, crossed the sea
in a boat to the shores of Camargue, using their skirts for sails, and
assisted by the oars of a boatman, whom one of their number, Sara the
Egyptian, paid in heathen coin, by allowing him to see, as the price
of a Christian action, her undefiled body, entirely naked, upon the
self-same spot on which the church stands to-day.

Slowly she picked up the crown and threw it into the fire over which
the soup was stewing. Before it melted into ashes, the crown of thorns
seemed for a moment to be pure gold.




II

IN CAMARGUE


Every year, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the village that stands at
the southern end of Camargue, above the marshes, on a sand beach, the
line of which is constantly changed by the action of the waves and
high winds, every year, the feast of Saintes-Maries is celebrated on
May 24th; and at the time of that festival the gipsies flock to
Camargue in large numbers, impelled by a curious sort of piety,
mingled with a desire to pilfer the pilgrims.

Legends, like trees, spring from the soil, - are its expression, so to
speak. They are also its essence. At every step in Camargue, you find
the everlasting legend of the holy women, just as you everlastingly
see there the same tamarisk-trees, confused, against the horizon, with
the same mirages.

The two Marys, so runs the legend, Jacobé, Salomé, and - according to
some authorities - Magdalen, and with them their bondwomen, Marcella
and Sara, adrift on the sea in a boat without masts or sails, pursued
by the accursed Jews, after the Saviour's death, spread to the breeze
strips of their skirts and their long, thin veils, and the wind
carried them to this beach at Camargue.

There a church was built. The sacred bones, found by King René, were
enclosed in a reliquary, which has never ceased to perform miracles.
And every year, from every corner of Provence, from the Comtat and
from Languedoc, the last of the believers throng to the spot, bringing
their aspirations and their prayers, dragging with them their sick
friends and kindred, or their own wretchedness, their wounds and their
lamentations.

Nothing more strange can be imagined than this land of desolation,
traversed every year by a multitude of cripples on their way to hope!

From afar, at the end of the desert tract, can be seen the
battlemented church that tells of the wars of long ago, of Saracen
invasions, of the precarious life led by the poor in the Middle Ages.
It stands there with its turrets and its bell-tower, which, like the
stumps of gigantic masts, tower above the cluster of houses grouped
about it; and the village, cut at about mid-height of the lower houses
by the horizon line of the sea, seems drifting like a phantom ship
among the billows of sand, like the boat of the holy women of the
olden time, doomed to founder at last in the desolation of the desert.

In this Camargue everything is strange. There are ponds like the huge
central pond, the Vaccarès, in the centre of which one can wade with
ease; there are tracts of land where the pedestrian sinks out of sight
and is drowned. Here deception is easy. Yonder green slime that you
take for a level plain - beware! - men are drowned therein; those vast
stretches of water which seem to you small seas - return that way
to-morrow; they will have evaporated, leaving only a mirror of white
salt that crackles beneath your feet. Yonder, do you see the calm,
deep water? and trees on the shore? Ah! no, you can run along the
surface of that water; it is dry land; the mirage alone formed those
trees, just as it showed you the little child walking a league away,
apparently near at hand and very tall. A land of visions, dreams, and
hard work. A land of sedentary folk, who inhabit a vast space on the
shore of endless waters, with an infinity of variations of mirages,
sunbeams, reflections, and bright colors. A land of fever, where
strong men daily bring wild bulls to earth. A land of leave-takings,
for it is on the confines of an almost uninhabited land, on the shore
of that great blue and white thoroughfare, the sea; just at the point
where the Rhône, coming from the mountains, sets out upon its long
journey to the bottomless waters, where the sun will take it up again
to restore it to its source. An impressive land, which one feels to be
the end of so many things; of the great city-making river, of the
great expiring Faith, which flies to the sands to breathe its last,
with its dying waves beating at the foundations of a poor
battlemented church, amid the psalms, mingled with lamentations of a
dying race.

The ceremony of May 24th, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, is
unquestionably one of the most barbarous spectacles which men of
modern times are permitted to witness.

Since science made the conquest of men's minds, the faith of the last
believers has changed. The most bigoted know, of course, that God can
manifest Himself when and how He pleases, but they also know that He
never pleases, in our positive days, to modify the movements of the
vast mechanism of His creation, not even for the lowly pleasure of
proving His existence to His creatures. The faith of civilized men no
longer expects anything from Heaven in this world.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, on the 24th of May, is the rendezvous of the
last savages of the Faith.

They who come to pray to the holy women for health of body and of
heart are unpolished creatures of a primitive belief. They believe,
and that is the whole of it. A cry, a prayer, and, in reply, the
saints can give them what they have not: eyes, legs, arms, life! And
they ask them to perform a miracle as artlessly as a condemned man
implores his pardon from the head of the State. That their prayers
should be granted is quite as possible, almost more probable, for the
saints have more pity. The few thousands of believers - it is long
since their numbers have been added to - who pay a visit to the saints
every year, see one or two miracles on each occasion. When the priest,
coming from the church, followed by a procession, stretches out toward
the sea the _Silver Arm_ which contains the relics, they see the sea
recede! That happens every year. Imagine, then, how strenuously they
importune the saints who can do so much with so little exertion! with
what energy they hurry to the spot! with what sighs they pour out
their hearts! with what a howling they utter their prayers! with what
fervor they raise their eyes, stretch out their necks and their arms!
All, all in vain. The last posturings of the great, fruitlessly
imploring sorrow are to be seen there, in that desert corner of
France, between the arms of that dying stream, on the shore of the sea
that is eating away the island; beneath the arches of yonder church,
so white without, so black within, wherein every hand holds a taper,
flickering like a star of human misery, which burns for God and
greases the fingers, and for which the beggar, whose heart would be
made glad by a single sou, must pay five sous.

The whole region seems to be at once the highway to exile, and a wild
place of refuge. Therefore, the gipsies love it. It is one of the main
cross-roads of their interlacing highways which envelop the whole
world; it is one of the favorite countries of the race that has no
country.

And every year, the gipsies come to Camargue to enjoy their very
ancient privilege of occupying a black crypt or underground chapel,
under the choir of the church, consecrated to Saint Sara the Egyptian.

In that cavern they can be seen crouching at the foot of an altar
whereon is a little shrine - Saint Sara's - all filthy from much
kissing, while above, in the church, the great shrines of the two
Marys are lowered from the vaulted roof amid vociferous prayers.

There, in the crypt, the gipsies sit upon their haunches,
curly-headed, hot-lipped, sweating profusely, amid hundreds of
candles, which exude tallow and overheat the stifling oven, telling
their greasy beads, exhaling an odor similar to that of wild beasts in
their den, emitting from time to time a hoarse appeal to Saint Sara,
wearing the smile of premeditated crime upon their faces mingled with
the grimace due to remorse that may be sincere; looking with envious
eye at every sou, pilfering handkerchiefs, scratching their wounds,
swarming in a mysterious dunghill, where one feels, in spite of
everything, that some mystic flower is springing into life, the
involuntary aspiration of depravity toward purity.

Early in May of this year, the band of gipsies had brought with them
to the saints a young woman whom they called their "Queen."

This "Queen," pending the arrival of the approaching fête-day, passed
part of her time seated on the wooden bench under the canopy of
thorn-broom erected by the customs' officers between two tamarisks, on
the sand-dune just in front of the village; and there she sat and
gazed at the sea.

Her name was Zinzara.

Her thick, black, wavy hair was twisted carelessly into a mass on top
of her head. Two locks came forward to her temples, which were sunken
and filled with shadows. Her piercing black eyes gleamed from beneath
her thick arching eyebrows. A copper circlet with sequins hanging from
it was placed upon her forehead, slightly at one side, after the
manner of a crown.

The glaringly bright materials in which she enveloped her figure
revealed the outline of her powerful chest, and her hips that swayed
at every step she took. And the fragment that formed her skirt fell in
graceful folds, beneath which her naked foot peeped out, glistening
with sand.

Evening surprised her upon her bench beneath the broom, looking out
upon the sea. The sun tinged the waves and the sand with golden
yellow, then with red. The night wind made the reeds and rushes


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