Where he was going, he didn’t know. He wandered driven by his strength which stirred within him and which wanted to be expended.

Love governed him as he himself governed his horse. At the same time that he was the rider of the beast, he was the damned beast of desire which pushed him, spurred him on, shouted to him: “March!” directed, here and there, without regulating it, its course across the moor. He too was ridden, harassed, bridled, whipped, the bit in his mouth, carried away and helpless. And the horse suffered the impressions of the rider, who suffered those of love; so much so that Blanchet, quite weary from his fatigue of the day, having had only a short rest just now, nevertheless panicked. Fortunately he knew ditches, roubines, swamps, and, in his speed, the bridle loose on the pass, he still chose his route. Sometimes he slowed down in front of the ditches, in order to descend into them, head first, then forcing the rider to stand upright on the great stirrups, the back touching the croup; sometimes he crossed them at full speed.{95}

Intoxicated, bareheaded, his hat having rolled away somewhere in the night, his hair swirling through his hair, Renaud ran, to run, because the violence of the race corresponded to his inner violence. He ran like an animal that moves, out of rage and fury at being alone, in the rutting season.

And he said to himself that it was abominable to think of the other, when he had in him this flower of beauty, of gentleness and of wisdom; but it was something quite different that he now thirsted for; and he felt in his mouth a strong bitterness, a sticky and harsh saliva, a juice that altered him entirely.

And not understanding how he would escape all the wicked wills he had within himself, he went with two desires he confessed to himself: either to meet Rampal, on whom he would avenge himself for everything, or else to fall at the back of a ditch, never to get up again, thus changing his wicked destiny—and a third desire that he did not admit to himself: to meet, at dawn, the gypsy, begging on the threshold of some farm. .. So what?… He didn’t know!

Suddenly he thought he heard an echo behind him doubling the sound of his gallop; he turned round and he saw—he saw in truth!—pursuing him at full speed, the naked gipsy, very erectly planted,{96}like a man, on a pale horse, which did not touch the ground.

Soaring and laughing, she cried to him:

“Stop, coward!

He thought that wasn’t true, but he didn’t think it was a vision; he thought: “It’s the spell,” and fear seized him, a fear equal to his desire, and he began to flee from the image of what he was looking for.

He no longer looked back, he fled. He still heard a double gallop: his own, that of “the other.” He passed through clear mists that trailed over the wet, saline sands; and cutting through those crawling clouds, he seemed to run across the sky, above the clouds above. Truly, a dizziness was in his brain, for love wants to be obeyed, and the wish of his youth was in him like madness.

Suddenly, Blanchet’s four legs, still going strong, braced themselves motionless, rigid as stakes, and his ironless hooves began to slip on a surface of absolutely smooth, hard, soapy clay. At full speed the horse was sliding, upright, digging grooves with its horn on this polished surface, and, at the end of its acquired speed, it stopped, wanted to resume its course, lifted one foot, and, heavily, exhausted. , mouth and nostrils blowing despair, swooped down.{97}

Already Renaud, leaning on his pike which he had not let go, standing at the head of his horse, was trying to raise him, encouraging him with his voice. Blanchet, leaning on the bridle held by the man, rose to his feet after two useless slips.

Renaud looked around him: there was nothing but the night, the desert, the stars… pale, ragged mists that trailed here and there, as if clinging to bushes, tamarisks, a clump of reeds… and which at times took on the shapes of fantastic beasts.

Renaud went back to Blanchet, but he took pity on him. And the horse, sometimes letting itself slide, its four stiffened legs, on its four ironless hooves, sometimes putting one foot in front of the other, scratching this ground, both firm under its weight and tender under the edge of its horn chipped, they came out of the clay.

It was both pity and remorse that Livette’s horse inspired in Renaud.

What right had he, the guardian, to spoil, in the service of his passion for a witch, the good beast, so beloved by his darling betrothed?

Renaud therefore alighted from his horse and, removing Blanchet’s saddle and bridle, he said to him: “Go! Do as you like.” Then he cut around him apaïuns of which he made a bed, and, lying on his back, the saddle{98}under the neck, a scarf over his face, he waited for daylight.

A sleep numbed him, during which his pain swelled inside him, burst, extravasated, came out of him, took on shapes… The same vision always returned.

When he awoke, two hours later, he found his face in tears, and his two hands on his face. Then he took pity on himself, and, having begun to weep in a dream, he let his tears flow, which he would have suppressed at first, if they had wanted to come out during the vigil.

He found himself unhappy and wept over himself, with rage, convulsively, then with joy, as if, in weeping, he had poured out all his sorrow forever. He wept at being caught, powerless, between two contrary, hostile things; to want one and to desire, in spite of himself, the other. He struck the ground with his two fists; he tore his tie which was strangling him; he crushed reeds with his teeth, and, like a child, he cried out, he who was an orphan:

-My God! my mother!

And he would have wept thus for a long time perhaps, emptied the bitter sources of his heart, if, all of a sudden, he had not felt a warm caress—two warm, soft, moist caresses, touch his cheek, his forehead. , his eyes closed.

He half-opened his eyelids and saw Blanchet who,{99}standing by her side, touched her face with his hanging lip, as when, while reaching for a piece of sugar, he caressed Livette’s hand.

Another beast had imitated Blanchet: it was the dondaire Le Doux, the herdsman’s favourite, the leader of his herd of bulls and wild cows, whose bell Renaud had not heard, and who had recognized the herdsman.

This pity for the two beasts at first exasperated Jacques’ bitter pain. Like children who begin to howl as soon as they are pitied, he had, seeing himself miserable enough to be pitied by animals, a great inner cry—which he stifled in his throat; then, touched to see their good face, and thereby distracted from himself, he suddenly calmed down, sat up, stretched out his hand towards those nostrils, those muzzles of powerful beasts, so docile, and he spoke to them. :

“Braves, brave beasts, oh! brave beasts!

Dawn was appearing. And the big black bull, and the white horse, both, as if to answer the man and also to answer that first glance of the returning light, which sent a shiver of delight over the whole plain, held out the neck up; and the whinny of the horse rang out, bright, pulsating like a fanfare, backed by the bass of the bull’s roar.{100}

Immediately there arose all around Renaud a concert of mingled moos and whinnies. His free herd had spent the night there. He was surrounded by his familiar beasts.

They came running at Blanchet’s call, at Le Doux’s, at the voice of the guardian. The horses were white as salt. They arrived, some at a light trot, others at a gallop, some followed by their foal; stuck their heads between the reeds, looked curiously and stayed there—or else, as if mischievously, went off again with the air of saying: “It’s the tamer, let’s go away!”—And kicked towards the ‘man.

A few bulls, a few black heifers, lean, nervous, whipping their flanks with their tails, came also, took fright, remembering to have been punished for some misdeed, and, turning their hindquarters, scampered off likewise, then, out of sight , stopped quickly….

As the dondaire remained there, oxen and horses scarcely strayed apart.

Some, the wisest or the oldest, knelt down slowly, as if to resume their interrupted rest, then sniffed the ground around them, wrapped their tongues around a tuft of salty grass, pulled it towards them and were chewing, a silver drool falling from their muzzles.{101}

Others, lying like this, gently licked themselves. A mother who was suckling her calf looked at him with a very gentle, very calm eye.

Here a stallion approached a mare, made two leaps beside her, his tail high, his mane energetic, with a call of his voice, bold, sonorous, powerful—then reared up, and when the mare , under him, slipped away, he bit her, immediately avoiding, with a sudden swerve, the kick which she unleashed towards him.

Many a bull also courted the females, heaved himself up, heavy, on his hind legs,—falling empty on his four feet.

The awakening of the herd was not complete. Weariness still bound these beasts in numbness. They were waiting for the sun.

Renaud approached a half-tamed stallion, whom he had ridden a few times, and threw around his neck the seden he had been preparing for this purpose for some time, the seden of Blanchet, of Livette, all soiled with mud by the fall soon!

He offered sugar to the wild animal, which allowed itself to be saddled without too much resistance, perhaps desiring to find again for one day the abundant hay from the stables of the Castle, of which it had the memory.

Renaud said to Blanchet:

“Rest, old man!{102}

And on his fresh mount, pike in hand, he rode off, thinking of looking for Rampal.

The stallion Renaud rode was his favourite, the one he called Leprince.

And Renaud felt an honest satisfaction in telling himself that at least it would no longer be Livette’s horse that would have to put up with his caprices and his amorous violence. He felt quite at ease with this, relieved of a triple responsibility, that of cavalier, guardian, and betrothed.

Leprince seemed disappointed when Renaud forced him to turn behind the Château d’Avignon.

Renaud was heading towards the hut Audiffret had told him about. It was quite possible, in fact, that Rampal had made it his home. He wanted to know. Now, this hut being, as we know, not in the Camargue, but in Crau, not far from the Mas d’Icard, nearly nine or ten leagues to the east, it was necessary to cross the Grand Rhone. But, in this vast flat country, riders cover very long distances for a yes or a no, and thirty or forty kilometers did not surprise Renaud.

Given where he was, the shortest seemed to him to be along the Vaccarès to the south.

The good freshness of the morning drove away from him the dark thoughts, the visions, the nightmares; he felt a little calm. For the rest, broken by fatigue,{103}he felt half asleep, and found this state delicious. He no longer felt the strength to follow his thoughts, even less to guide them, so that he was subject, like a thing, like a grass, to the passing air, to the shining ray.

The hour and the color of the day were truly joyful, and a physical gaiety entered into him, which no longer reflected.

A shiver ran over the waters, the herbs, and smelled of salt. The dawn was breaking out now. Another minute, and the sun would appear, cast its horizontal net with golden meshes over the plain. He appeared. The murmurs became noises: the reflections, gleams; awakenings, activities.

With the pike in the stirrup, resting his heavy forehead on the arm that held it, Renaud, who had closed his eyes as the horse rocked, suddenly opened them again, and looked around him with the gaze of a joyful king.

He paused for a moment to contemplate a team of several horses pulling a large plow and turning a bad stony field into a rutted ground to plant vines.

The phylloxera, which has done so much harm to rich and healthy countries, is, for the Camargue, a new opportunity to fight the fever and gain ground on the swamp. The sands are, in fact, favorable to the vine, unfavorable to the parasitic insect, and{104}this land of water will slowly become, please God, a real land of wine!

And Renaud looked at the plowman with a feeling of joy, at this idea of ​​the enrichment of his country by work; and with a confused feeling of regret, for he preferred his moor to remain wild, free, uncultivated. The idea of ​​a plain cultivated from end to end, where no place is left for the capricious tread of horses as God has made it—this idea saddened him.

He always said to himself, as he passed civilized countryside:

“No, there, in truth, one can neither live nor die.”

The fields of wheat or oats, even in the summer season, when they are of such a beautiful red, so like the overheated earth, so like the silty and radiant waters of the Rhone, did not enchant him. not. They gave him the impression of an obstacle before which he had to turn his horse’s course, and Renaud knew of no respectable obstacle—except the sea!

He forgave the vines more because it seemed to him that there was a glory for his country in producing wine, at a time when the other lands of France could no longer produce any. And then, the Rhône, the mistral, the horses, the bulls, the wine, all that{105}seemed to him to go well together, like things of vigor and celebration, of courage and joy. They know how to drink, come on, those of Saint-Gilles, and those of Arles, and those of Avignon. On the island of Barthelasse, in the middle of the Rhone, in front of Avignon, Renaud had been to a wedding once and there he had tasted a red wine whose color he could still see! It was an old wine from the Rhone, he had been told, and he remembered that, to do honor to this wine as well as to the bride, he had, being a little heated in his head, solemnly threw, after the last swig, its cup-shaped glass at the bottom of the Rhone. There are like that, at the bottom of the Rhone, cups dead, but not broken, where joy, yesterday, was drunk. Through the water, swaying slowly, they descended to a sandy bottom….

There they sleep, covered with silt, and in two, three thousand years, who knows? the old scholars of the time will discover them as today one discovers, at Trinquetaille, terracotta amphoras, and, near the amphorae, sometimes a glass urn in which shimmer, as soon as one undresses it of its dusty robe, all the colors of the rainbow.

Renaud’s glass, who knows? this brittle glass, where he drank the best wine of his youth, will perhaps remain full for centuries, full of the sands and waters of the Rhone, and perhaps that—in{106}centuries,—other youths will find the same joy there. Because everything starts again.

Thus wandered the wanderer’s thoughts, one thing leading to another, from vine to glass. Ah! his glass, thrown into the Rhône! He came back to it again, to this memory of an intoxication. It seemed to her now that by throwing him thus into the river, one wedding day, he had predicted his own destiny, and that he, Livette’s fiancé, would never marry! If the glass was thrown away, he would drink no more.

The first impression of joy which had come to him with the novelty of the morning had already passed; he was already saddened again, as the day lost its gay charm of a beginning thing.

And, thus dreaming, Renaud cut through the swamps, Leprince wading in water up to his knees.

Yes, my friends, he forgave the vine—that Renaud—for invading the Camargue. Besides, after the harvest is done, aren’t the fields of red and white vines an excellent pasture for the bulls? For there are some all red, in autumn, and all white too, or at least a light golden yellow—as if the vines, under the great setting suns, had fun repeating the two wine colors.

Hasn’t seen anything that hasn’t seen the rays of a sun{107}sunset, in November, yellow as gold, red as blood, spread out over a field of reddened vines, over a field of yellowed vines, themselves spread out as far as the eye can see….

Besides, isn’t this Camargue the homeland of lambrusques? The lambrusque is the wild, Camargue vine, different from our cultivated vines in that the male and the female are on separate plants. The grapes that load the female lambrusques make a somewhat harsh but good wine, and the shoots of this vine are, in the hand, light and vigorous sticks.

Arrived at the Grand Pâtis, Renaud crossed the Rhone on horseback, in three stages, going from Camargue land to the Isle of Mouton; from the island of Mouton to the island of Saint-Pierre, and from the island of Saint-Pierre on the mainland.

He was now in the marshes of the Crau, of this Crau which is added, desert of pebbles, to the Camargue, desert of silt.

These two very different steppes join, for the view, their expanses above the Rhône. From Aigues-Mortes to the Etang de Berre, there is, my friends, a nice view of “planure”, and the sea eagle does its best, there is for him, in a beautiful straight line , twenty good leagues to fly, wings wide! And this is the kingdom of King Renaud.{108}

The Camargue has salicornia, grasses, plantains and burdocks, in thin tufts, separated by sandy intervals; she has the squirrels, which are the green rushes flared out in bouquets, with a thousand dry points finer than needles; here and there, the tamarisks, and, on the banks of the two Rhônes, the abalones so often pruned and re-cut, for the need to get firewood from them, that they look like big caterpillars erect on their tails, bristling their short hairs.

La Crau is bare land and heather. It is, to tell the truth, a field of stones. They came, it is said, from Mont Blanc, all these pebbles which now sleep here. Rhône and Durance carried them, then changed beds, after having played together in this vast space at the foot of the Alpilles. From under the pebbles of Crau, in May, emerges a fine and rare grass, bluegrass or couch grass. With the tip of their muzzle, the sheep push the stone, graze the small grass while the shepherd, in the wind and the sun, dreams….

But this Crau des pebbles is further away, beyond the Ligagnou pond , which runs along the river. Here, in the Crau on the banks of the Rhone, we are in the middle of the marshes, almost completely dry for a large part of the year, but some of them are treacherous, and we must know them well.{109}

Renaud went up towards the northeast, and, in the neighborhood of the Mas d’Icard, he soon arrived.

Renaud had just stopped.

“Where is the hiding place?” he whispered.

And with all his eyes, he tried to pierce the tangle of gorse, siagnes, bulrushes, sedges and bulrushes, which sprang up over there from the bottom of a swamp, in the middle of the sun. This swamp does not seem more worrying than any other, but the heifers and the mares fear it, and carefully avoid it.

On the surface of the swamp lay like a thick crust of moldy greenery. Yet it was not this leprosy, made of duckweed, which sleeps on the ponds. It was like a mat of dead gorse, of roots, of intertwined grass, and it made the water a solid and mobile surface, undulating under the feet which ventured there, ready to carry them and ready to die.

This crust (the trantaïère ), cracked here and there, showed through the cracks a water dark as night, the surface of which, speckled with small reflections, sparkled like a mirror of black glass.

On the banks, around a few tamarisk trees, reeds and more reeds were growing densely packed together, always crumpled together, and constantly brushed, with a sound like papyrus, by the dry wings of monster-headed dragonflies. .{110}

Many of these caneous bear purplish-white flowers. Layered along these stems, one would take them for large mallow flowers. These reeds with large corollas arouse the idea of ​​ancient thyrsos, which would have been stuck there upright, in the damp earth, by bacchantes, now sleeping somewhere, in the shade of the tamarisks, or giving themselves up to the centaurs. . They are also reminiscent of the stick of the legend which, planted in the ground, is immediately covered with flowers and thereby commands the nuptials.

These thyrses of the marsh are reeds climbed by bindweed. The convolvulus clings to the reed, wraps its festoons in it, spirals around it, seeks light at its top, and throws, all along the murmuring stem, a harmony of dazzling color.

The sharp young leaves of the reeds stood up like a spearhead. The old ones, broken, fell at right angles. As for the tamarisks, their fine, slender foliage is like a transparent cloud, and their little pink flowers, in spikes, too heavy, especially before they open, cause the flexible plumes of the rounded tree to lean in all directions.

Through tamarisk and reeds, Renaud was trying to see the hut he knew and about which, the night before, Audiffret had told him about it. But he could barely make out the little slanted cross on{111} the edge of their roof, at the very end, the Camargue huts, made of beams, planks, grayish mud ( tape ) and straw. The hut was once entirely visible from where he stood, but the reeds on the islet where it stands had grown so thick that they now hid it. The path leading there was on the opposite side. He had to make a big detour to get there, this swamp of the hut being of very capricious shape.

From the south he had passed north of the hut. It is no longer the trantaïère which he had in front of him, but, under the water where the siagnes, the triangles and the gorse abounded, the gargate , the mire where, suddenly, which advances sinks.

There are many other dangers in the cursed swamps. There are the lorons , sorts of bottomless wells, open here and there under the water, and the location of which must be known. Aigues and taures know them very well, know how to flee them, and yet, sometimes, more than one falls there, more than one man too. Whoever falls there stays there. No reasoning, my man! There you are, goodbye!

The gardians will tell you, and it is the truth, that from each loron comes out a little swirling smoke, by which we recognize these mouths of hell. A hundred lorons, a hundred smokes. That, my friends, is something to dream about, isn’t it?{112}what step, when the malignant fever, emerging from the swamps, throws you on your side!

Renaud wanted to know if Rampal lived in the hut, but not to attack him there, because the place is treacherous. “If he’s there, he’ll come out sooner or later…. I’ll wait for him on dry land…. Ah! here is the path!…»

The path meandered, hidden under a shallow sheet of water. It was a narrow but very firm gravel, the right edge of which was marked, as far as the hut, by a few stakes emerging at the water’s edge, and not very far from each other.

Renaud dismounted, and, holding his horse by the bridle, sought out the first of these stakes. Although he knew its position, it took him some time to find it. With the end of his trident, he pushed aside the grass, and when the picket was recognized, he felt the solid path, the width of which he measured. Bent over, he looked for a very long time, very attentively, at the grasses, the reeds whose stems touched in places above the secret passage, and, when he got up, he had judged with certainty that the passage, for some time, had had not been used.

He was not wrong. Rampal, in fact, was a little wary of this hiding place, too well known, he thought, and where he could be tracked down. He often lay about, ready to take refuge in this dead end, if it became necessary, but he liked better, waiting.{113}ant, feeling free, with lots of open space all around him.

Renaud went up to Leprince and, an hour later, recrossed the Rhone. In the evening, he slept in one of those big cabins which are stables, winter “jass”, for the herds of mares, in those months when the weather is so bad that the bulls find pasture only by breaking the horned ice cream.

And the next day, an hour before noon, he saw over there, in front of him, the Church of the Saints cut out like a tall ship on the blue of the great sea.

Small black swifts circled around, mixed by chance with a flock of large blunt-winged gulls.

A cart was slowly coming along the sandy road.

“Hello, Renaud.

“Hello, Marius. Where are you going?

—To carry fish in Arles.

This Marius lifted branches which seemed to load his chariot and cast a shadow over a dozen tubs and baskets. Quite happy with his cargo, he pushed aside the tarpaulin which, under the branches, covered his treasure. Tubs and baskets were, to the brim, full of fish caught in the ponds and the sea.{114}Open doors like glowing sea flowers amid dark blues, glaucous greens, wet golds. There were huge eels, most of them taken from Camargue roubines, veritable reserve tanks.

These slimy, dark conger eels slid into each other, endlessly composing and decomposing the slipknots of their serpentine bodies.

By the livid, sad-colored spots that scratched some of these big eels, Renaud recognized moray eels, opening a voracious mouth, armed with sharp teeth.

“How everything moves, you see! said Marius.

At this moment, as if to prove him right, a large flatfish, leaping out of a tub, fell to the ground.

With the iron of his trident, the gardian on horseback nailed him to the ground to prevent him from jumping into the ditch full of water, which ran along the road….

-Here! he said surprised, isn’t that a torpedo? When I fish it with the “weasel”, which is a spear longer than my trident, it then gives me a jolt that I haven’t felt today?

“Then,” said Marius, laughing, “the torpedo is in the water and your weasel is wet. But, he added, leave the beast on the ground. It’s not worth much. The snakes will enjoy it.{115}

Thereupon, horseman and fisherman, each fired his way.

And the guardian’s thoughts ranged from the torpedo and the moray eel to the American gymnotus, of which old sailors had spoken to him. He had been told that electric like the torpedo, but similar in form to the conger, the gymnotus can, with a lightning discharge, kill a horse; for in order to make them exhaust their supply of strength, and to take them thus without danger, wild horses are pushed into the water against them, which receive the first shocks and sometimes die.

And Renaud, while continuing his road towards the Saintes, confusedly dreamed of the miracles of life, which nothing explains.