Both had the spear, Renaud and Rampal.

Passing near the Mas Neuf, half a league from Les Saintes, Rampal, who possessed only his saddle in the world, and who, being at that time only a gardian without a place, had no trident, in had seen one left there, leaning against a fig tree… and had taken it without dismounting, had “borrowed it without saying a word”, thinking that for his defense he would no doubt need it.

Now, his bullock in his boot, his pike resting in the stirrup, bent over his horse, he galloped across the plain.

Renaud had taken the wrong road in his wild pursuit. Perhaps the gipsy was the cause, for, in spite of himself, to stay under her gaze, Renaud had steered straight towards Vaccarès, while, quite simply, Rampal had followed the road to Arles, not cunning for better. cunning, telling himself that Renaud would certainly persuade himself that he had reached the middle of the island to take refuge there in some abandoned “jass”.{163}

Renaud divined Rampal’s idea.

He’ll stay the course, he thought suddenly, and sure of that he turned left and headed straight west. Rampal, having a lead of a good league over him, halted his horse near the Grandes-Cabanes, and, leaning strongly on his spear stuck in the ground, he put his feet, one after the other, on the croup of his motionless horse, and from there, for a few seconds, examined the plain behind him….

Between two tufts of tamarisk, he lives, like a flash or like a rabbit which “fuses” between two bouquets of thyme, a horseman… Renaud, surely! Rampal understood that Renaud, if it was him, was rejoining the road, and so he left it, and took the opposite direction, the path parallel to that which his enemy was making in the distance. When Renaud arrived on the road, and began to follow it, Rampal had the Vaccarès in front of him, and turning left, began to follow its edge. He intended to cross the Grand Rhone and reach the cabin of the Conscrit, in the middle of the “gargate”, the lodging where he promised himself to find, in serious perils, a supreme refuge. Unfortunately for him, he had been seen—when, standing on his horse, he watched his man—by an eel fisherman who, squatting on the edge of the roubine, was throwing into the water, at the end of a reed. ,{164}and all twisted, at the end of the short cord.

“Haven’t you seen Rampal, buddy?” said Renaud, stopping his horse dead as soon as he saw the fisherman who was about to change places.

“Hold on, King! are you looking for it? said the fisherman, an old man. He must be at this time, if he kept the route he took to escape you (because I saw clearly that he was watching someone behind him), he must now be on the edge of the Vaccarès, and, from there, if he does not return to Les Saintes, it is because he will go back up to Notre-Dame-d’Amour. Grand’Mar.

Renaud had left as if with wings.

After an hour and a half of a mad dash (he had nevertheless known how to change pace several times, very wisely), he stopped, a little discouraged, then, after a halt and a gust of water -de-vie drank from the gourd which never left its pots, he resumed—not without having carefully let his horse drink a single sip of water from the roubine—his race of rage.

Arrived between the Grand’Mar marshes and the Vaccarès, he found, under the guidance of Bernard (the young herdsman who was his assistant), his own herd at rest.{165}

Horses and sea bulls, lying on the banks of the Vaccarès, were resting, motionless, in the double radiance of the sky and the water, for the hour was near noon and the light was dazzling.

Bernard, lying on his back, his head on his saddle, his hat over his eyes, was also resting, not far from his horse which, shackled, was learning to pace.

In front of Renaud stretched the pearl gray Vaccarès, gleaming like an immense table of polished steel, in the middle of which slept a veritable white island of seated, motionless seagulls.

Behind him stretched a plain of ashen gray, which one saw, in places, at the places where the salt stands out in crystalline efflorescences, scintillating through a vast purplish network of saladelles in bloom, for the saladelles spread out in large slender tufts, very branched, without foliage, dotted with a multitude of lilac florets, through which one sees the earth…. And lower down began the fields of engans, with fleshy, juicy leaves,—of a beautiful succulent green when young—but which the “marine” soon paints blood red, so that the oldest, and those nearest the sea, are the most purple.

Here and there, tamarisk trees, low, rare, with gnarled trunks, raised the plain, with their light foliage veiled in soft pink by their flowerets in{166}spikes, mignonettes, and yet heavy at the end of their flexible branches.

And, in vast patches, in parched and cracked bottoms, spread out, very green, thick as harvests of good wheat, the siagnes, the triangles, the gorses, the apaguns of all kinds, the caneoùs, these dwarf reeds which are used to make roofs and mats,—all sorts of water stems, very straight, whose rigid battalions, harvested in summer, are indented, under the sickles, in large semicircles. Above these expanses of greenery, rustling in the slightest breeze, passed a few dragonflies with monstrous heads, insect-swallows, voracious midge-eaters. They circled, mingling with the swallows, above the waters from which mosquitoes are born, and in the leaves of the reeds they made a metallic noise when their wings of transparent mica, with black veins engaged them.

Renaud considered these familiar things and forgot himself. For a second he took to believing that he was keeping his herd there, and that he had nothing else to do but stay with his beasts, lost, like them, in the tranquil, animal contemplation of the desert that surrounded him. He stopped loving, hating, desiring and pursuing.

Shadows of wings passed at his feet. He looked up and saw, above his head, two pink flamingos.{167}These, he thought simply, have made their nest here this year.

But Leprince, the good horse, had recognized his favorite mares, and straightening his neck, widening his nostrils to breathe the open sea of ​​the marshes and the desert, lifting his lips and baring his teeth, he uttered a neigh which made, with a single leap, all the mares rise up, and raise the heads of the bulls, and Bernard himself leaps upright on his two feet, spear in hand.

Renaud, pressing his knees together, gathering his horse, held it, quivering under him, and dancing with all four feet in the soft clay.

At the same time, a gust of mistral passed over the plain, and broke the mirror of the Vaccarès into sudden ripples.

“If it’s Rampal you’re looking for,” Bernard said, “he’s not far from here, for sure. When he suddenly recognized me—a moment ago—he won by that. And as I lost sight of him fairly quickly, I guess he went into some cabin. Should see near the Méjeane tower.

Renaud had left.

Suddenly, his eyes fell on a low hut, with its roof of apaun in the shape of a camel, or else of a haystack, and surmounted, thus{168}that they all are, from her wooden cross leaning back, as if the mistral were laying her down.

An idea came to him: “This Rampal is here! His horse must be tired. He will have retraced his steps a little, without being seen by Bernard, and will have hidden there—so that, deceived, I will pass him…. For sure, he is there!”

Renaud swung around, and, with a watchful eye, headed straight for the hut, which, seeing, Rampal, hidden there in fact, whence he was watching his enemy through the holes in the ruined wall, came out, frightening an owl. who flew away terrified, and rushed on his horse which was grazing, hobbled nearby, invisible at the bottom of a ditch.

The mistral which, around these hours, when it makes up its mind, arrives like a cannon shot, suddenly began to snore. Renaud, to receive the squall, had lowered his head so that he had not seen the enemy’s manoeuvre.

And Rampal seemed to come out of the ground suddenly, twenty paces from Renaud, who was not surprised, and who ran at him, spear held high, just like a knight in the time of Saint Louis, of whom our legends speak… (It was the beautiful weather of Aigues-Mortes!)

But the Camargue is, as we know, the mother of the mistral. It is she, they say, the immense sunny plain, it is she, with the Crau, which, by dint of sending the air upwards by overheating it, is well forced{169} to call on others, to breathe. And then, from the Rhone valley, descends, at the call of the desert, a torrent of fresh air, companion of the river, and which is called the mistral…. It rumbled, the mistral, as at the bottom of a sail, in Renaud’s open jacket, and, taking Leprince sideways, he delayed him a little. Jumping the ditch became difficult. This gave Rampal a lead who, facing the wind, was now trotting at full speed.

The gap was between the two men, and Rampal, trotting alongside it, only wanted to stretch the beast’s legs. Renaud, renouncing to cross the ditch immediately, decided to follow aside. The two riders thus trotted for a moment. The shrewd Rampal had, against the mistral, wrapped his head in a red scarf, the ends of which floated on his neck.

Suddenly, taking advantage of a narrowing of the banks, Renaud carried off his horse, which found itself on the other side of the ditch, just at the moment when, having made the same maneuver in the opposite direction, Rampal, on the side which had just come. to leave Renaud, took his race….

Renaud did not immediately find the favorable passage, and Rampal was gaining ground….

Having at last cleared the obstacle again, Renaud was now pursuing Rampal, at full speed—and so fast that, when Rampal turned to judge the{170}distance, he saw Renaud barely fifty paces behind him.

He barely had time to turn around, and, spear at rest, he waited, motionless, leaning forward, his back soles firmly placed flat in the wide stirrups.

Renaud, unfortunately, was charging against the mistral. A hailstorm, made of sand, and of these little snails torn from the leaves of the enganes where they live stuck together in myriads, struck him in the face, “upset” him.

Over there, five hundred paces away, Bernard was watching—saying nothing, for fear of Rampal—but making whispered wishes for Renaud, and he thought he saw two heroes of the flag standing on the high ladder, in the bow. jousting boats, the pike under his right arm, and held firmly in hand…. Rampal’s trident, suddenly lowered too low, by a false movement of his horse, stung the heel of Renaud’s boot, and grazed Leprince’s flank, which swerved violently, as when dodging the heifers’ horns.

Renaud’s pike, tearing the blue sleeve of his enemy’s shirt, carried away the shred.

The riders had crossed and passed.

Rampal was the first to turn and, ready to strike from behind, joined Renaud who, to face him, tried to stop Leprince who was too launched, and Leprince,{171}feeling behind him the hasty step and the ardent breath of the adversary horse, furious at being restrained, fearing to be overtaken, spun in his anger so unexpectedly that Rampal, terrified, again turned his bridle, but unintentionally.

And Renaud, seeing his pursuer become his fugitive again in spite of himself, released the rein to Leprince, who was free.

The stallion took flight.

The two riders, now downwind, helped by the gust, spun.

The eagles and the heifers, the whole herd, standing tall, their heads held high, their eyes staring, their nostrils wide open, watched the two horsemen come towards them, bent forward, their bridles vibrating, as if chased by the hurricane, along the pond whose waters danced, lapping.

Here and there, the little tamarisks, too, with their backs bent, seemed to flee before time. There were no more, come on, mouïssales or young ladies in the air. Above the Vaccarès, water dust flew low. The mistral swept everything away.

And two minutes later, powerless to control their enervated beasts maddened by the struggle and the wind, the two enemies crossed the herd, belly to the ground.

So, excited at the sight of their two studs in{172}fury, frightened at the sight of the tridents, drunk with the wild wind which entered their bodies through their nostrils which showed red,—the whinnying, rearing trebles, all leaped off at a gallop…. The bulls followed…. Hundreds of hoofs and cloven feet beat the ground with a stormy crackle, and the herd, whipped by the mistral which, howling, bit and pushed it, began to roll like a Rhone at across the plain…. And while Bernard hastily saddled his horse to join them, the two adversaries rode in this hurricane, as if carried along by the trampling of eighty beasts which sometimes sent dust of water, sometimes patches of silt, sometimes clouds of sand, in the wind which passed them!

It was in the lead, and yet in the middle of this whirlwind, that Renaud managed to reach Rampal. croup to the right. The right leg, just as it was about to land on the ground, bent under the blow of a trident which weighed down the weight of a man launched at a gallop, and Rampal rolled with his beast, under the tingling of the galloping paws with which the earth.

Bulls and horses leapt over these two{173}bodies, of beast and of man, stretched out, and when the herd, weary and calm, stopped, half a league further on, Renaud, well in the saddle on Leprince, held in his hand the reconquered horse, whose flank only and the nostrils were bleeding.

Standing beside him, rage between his teeth, stained with mud and dust, his face bloody, the palms of both hands peeled, quite red—Rampal was busy pulling up his breeches and retyping his belt!

“See you next time, Renaud!” After that, you can count on it, a man, isn’t it, must revenge !

But his voice was lost, shrill, in the roar of the mistral.

“Give me back my saddle!” he shouted louder.

The guardian’s saddle is his entire fortune. He cares for her, loves her, is proud of her.

“Your saddle?” replied Renaud, full of mistrust…. Follow me, come and take her! Bernard will give it to you.

And, shrugging his shoulders, he rejoined, without another word, the herd to which he was leading the emaciated horse which Rampal had abused.

In truth, he was glad that Blanchet had not been part of this duel…. He recognized him from afar, Blanchet, lost over there among the treble, but more careful, more shrewd than the other beasts. A real young lady’s horse, valiant as he was!… So he was going{174}to be able to return it to the mistress, now that he had, besides Leprince, his old horse. And the pride of victory swelled his nostrils. His chest was breathing all over the open sea.

He was thinking of two women—yes, two, not just one!—who, on hearing this, would say to themselves: “He’s a man!” And Renaud’s handsome horse felt all the pride of its rider, in the freedom it was allowed to walk proudly on its own, with the leaps of a victorious stallion in the race under the eyes of his entire herd.