It was the gipsy he first met.

Renaud, astride Blanchet, was going along the beach, towards Les Saintes.

He had the sea on his right; to his left, the desert. He was walking in the sand; and the wave, from moment to moment, came to spread itself under the legs of his horse, surrounding with gay foam the pink hooves quickly raised.

Renaud thought of Livette.

He looked in front of him, and saw the Church of the Saints, its high straight, crenellated walls, and he wondered whether it would be there or to Saint-Trophime in Arles that he would lead, dressed in white, crown on his head, his little queen.

He looked at the sea and wondered if nothing would come to him that way; if her uncle, the ocean-going captain, gone so many years, would not disembark one day with a cargo of vague and marvelous things, a million made up of precious objects, fabrics and precious stones? In his poor and ignorant imagination, the idea of ​​fortune was a{56}vision of legendary treasures, like those in the caves of Arab tales.

For a moment, he saw it with his eyes, saw it in action in the flickering brilliance of the vast sea which sparkled to infinity, in sharp and sudden flickers, like a mirror broken into narrow, irregular and moving pieces. It was an undulating sheet of diamonds and sapphires. The sun, as it sank below the horizon, threw more and more red fires on the less rapid reflections, and all the water was soon like old burnished gold, which moved slowly; one would have said, under the polished gleams of the showcase, an immense melted treasure! From very far to very far a high wave swelled, round, heavy, a cloud was passing; and in the thickness of the wave capped with gold, in the slow shadow of the cloud, a powerful black blue deepened.

On the desert, the marshes too were transformed into dazzling draperies, into spreading embroidery. Everything was only sparkling, the sands, the waters, the salt… At times, a pink flamingo rose from the middle of the{57}enganes, flew, heavy, seemed to carry on its side a little of the red of the water and the sky,—then rested at the edge of the glistening waters.

The gulls were like the white dream birds of this land of enchantment. They sat in flocks, like brooding doves, on the waves of the open sea, or on the warm sands, or on the ponds.

And over there, in the northwest, Renaud sought with his eye the high square terrace of the Château d’Avignon, where Livette sometimes climbed to see if, in the plain, she could not see Blanchet and the right spear of his good friend Renaud.

Renaud suddenly halted his horse and stared fixedly at a black speck moving on the sea, sinking and rising with the curves of the waves, two hundred paces from the shore.

He thought he recognized a woman’s head; a head with black hair dripping with water, crowned with a circle of copper, where shone, in pendants, medals of the Orient….

The gypsy was swimming, frolicking in the waves, which, coming from the bottom of the sea, rose up, rare, slow. She slid there like a conger eel, happy to feel her skin caressed by the suppleness of the salt water. It had undulations like those of the sea itself; it meandered like the seaweed we do{58}doyer the force of the swells. From time to time, the heavier and higher wave came against her. She faced him, stretched out, like divers, above her lowered head, her hands close together at a point, and entered horizontally under the wide wave which she crossed from side to side.

From the top of his horse, Renaud saw the brown head emerging from the other side of the domed wave which, arriving along the shore, curved into a whitening volute, immediately crumbled into a snow of foam, finally spread out. under him, on the sand, in thin transparent sheets which surmounted one another, all spangled with sparks. He couldn’t see the swimmer’s body clearly. Hardly, under the transparencies of the limpid water, could you see their fleeting outlines, than they were immediately veiled in undulations and reflections.

Suddenly the swimmer headed for land, seemed to gain a footing, and, raising one arm out of the water, beckoned Renaud to go away, with cries:

-Go along your path!

But he, who until then had been watching with curiosity, without any anger, was seized with irritation at this word. He had certainly forgotten nothing of Livette’s complaints against the gypsy. It had been less than a week since the gypsy had paid her menacing visit to the Chateau d’Avignon. Only in this light, in{59}This beauty of the evening, Renaud had felt his heart peaceful, and he had recognized the Bohemian queen without emotion. Perhaps a curiosity dominated in him, which urged him towards this strange, mysterious being, surprised in the bath, in the great solitude of the desert and of the evening; a curiosity of a traveler for an unexpected animal and of a Christian for a pagan woman. “Go along your path!” This injunction, which a woman’s voice gave him from afar, suddenly hurt him, at the place in his heart where the memory of Livette was threatened by the gypsy.

—Ah! it’s you, he cried, it’s you who go to the doorsteps to frighten the girls who are left alone! who make lies and antics to force them to give you what they refuse you! Don’t let that happen to you again, thief! where you will smell the wood of hay pitchforks and that of cow tridents!

The queen, insulted, had in her whole being a burst of mad rage…. If she had been near the guardian, she would have leaped straight at his throat, like a serpent which expands like an arrow and attaches itself to its prey. . She felt herself turn pale, straightened up her whole body, and, arched like a threatening grass snake, her head a little back, she advanced towards the horseman… but she was far from it!

—Ah! ha! he cried to her, you come closer to hear better! Come then, heathen, come! we explain ourselves{60}quera! At the memory of Livette being threatened by this woman, anger seized him…. They were not Christians, these people of Bohemia, but all thieves, bandits… It is said that they also eat human flesh, child’s flesh, when they find no other. Otherwise, how would they have, so often, quarters of bleeding flesh in the pot? Ah! breed of wolves! race of cursed foxes!

-Advance! he shouted again.

She was indeed advancing, but painfully, having to push back the heavy water in front of her, with each step. Her shoulders weren’t above water yet; and—under the water—she helped her walk by rowing with both arms. If she had started swimming, she would have gone the same way faster, but she didn’t even think about it. She was thinking of something else!

Renaud mechanically cast a glance at the shore, behind him, and saw a few paces away, beyond the reach of the wave, in a heap—and his tambourine thrown over it—the gypsy’s clothes; then he looked back at the woman who was advancing against him. She was now in water up to her armpits, and only then did he see that she was bathing naked.

Her bust slowly emerged. A hundred paces from the shore, the water was only up to her knees.{61}She was beautiful. Her body, firm and slender, was very young. Very arched, she seemed to walk into battle without any idea of ​​modesty. They attacked her: she ran after the aggressor, that’s all. His fists were clenched, his arms slightly bent, his head still a little back. His whole gait was menacing. The water rolled in shiny pearls from his neck to his feet, all over his tanned, dark tawny body. His chest, bulging, stretched forward and as if offered, seemed ready to receive, like a magic shield, blows that would remain powerless.

The guardian stood motionless in astonishment. He watched this woman come towards him who, thus seen, springing out of the water, surrounded by whiteness of foam, with her strange color, seemed to him a supernatural being.

What was she doing? She advanced, boldly aggressive, and in her witch’s mind there were doubtless many wicked tricks.

Hadn’t she bent down for a moment, as if to pick up pebbles from the bottom of the water to stone her enemy? Did she have any in her two fists that she held clenched? No, the sands of the Camargue go very far under water, descending in very gentle slopes, without the bare foot of the swimmer being able to encounter the slightest pebble.{62}

What was she doing then?

And now she was very close to the horseman, always more curious. However, the guardian no longer questioned himself. He looked at her, stupid and delighted.

Fascinated, he followed her with his gaze, forgetting his pike resting on the stirrup, forgetting his horse, forgetting everything…

And quite erect now, three paces in front of him, insolent in all her attitude, in all the contours of her body, she looked him in the face, with that eye from which issued a sharp flame and into which no gaze could penetrate. And as she presented to him, for a second, her face in profile, he had the quick, barely conscious feeling of a resemblance of the lower part of that face (from below the nostrils to below the chin)—with the head of the sand lizard and that of turtles and marsh snakes. It was the same vertical cup, split with a thin, slightly drooping mouth, from which he expected, as in a devil’s dream, to see a forked, vibrating tongue stick out.

Then, this impression quickly erased, he no longer saw anything but the woman, young, beautiful, naked, as if offering herself to his savage desire, in the freedom of this deserted shore, to the sound of the waves, in the air that came from the open sea, in the evening sun, which streamed over all this beautiful body with the sea water.{63}

And he went, dazzled, drunk, blinded by the flood of his blood which—from the heart where he had first run, oppressing him, making him stagger in his saddle—now leaped to his brain, reddening his face and his bull’s neck, he was about to jump down from his beast, or perhaps simply bend down, lift from the ground, by the force of his wrist, the creature light for him, carry him on his centaur’s croup,—when, quicker, she sprang forward, both arms outstretched, and with her left hand took and gripped with all her weight the double bridle of the horse, which, half rearing up, recoiled. And with her right hand she slapped the face of the beast!

“Go tell me, dog!” go and tell your fellow men that a woman has taken revenge on you, and that she slapped the rider on the face of the horse! Here, loose! Here, herdsman of misfortune! Go tell that to your fiancée! Go tell him that, beaten by me, you didn’t know what to say or what to do!

There was no longer much anger in Renaud; there was only fear, mingled with astonishment. The action of this woman seemed to him truly surprising, diabolical. In color, in attitude, in look, in audacity, she was truly a witch. A strange terror was in him. Perhaps he would have merrily, without remorse, committed the sin with any other than this unfortunate gypsy, who terrified him.{64}He feared above all for Livette. He felt her, and he with her, under the threat of a complicated, obscure misfortune; and the idea of ​​being unfaithful to her terrified her like the beginning of a catastrophe. He was afraid for himself, afraid for Livette, of the unexpected, inexplicable being who suddenly appeared in front of him, provoking him to what struggles? make love! He was distraught. He was only waiting, ready to carry off his beast at a gallop, only to be let loose, not having the anger he would have needed to knock down, to trample under his horse’s feet a woman, even a witch, at the risk of to kill her.

But why didn’t he have enough anger anymore? It was because his eyes, in spite of himself, were attached to all the movements of this body, strangely beautiful, which was that of an enemy.

“You want to run away like a coward,” she was shouting at him now. You will only leave when I want!

Taking advantage of the curious amazement of the rider, she had seized with her teeth a long end of the seden which hung unrolled around the horse’s neck, and, with the help of one hand (the other still tightening the bridle), she had nimbly, in a barbaric knot, caught, tightened the nostrils …. With a ferocious weight on this knot of torture, she maintained the animal, there, at the place where she wanted.{65}

“Your comrades must pass,” she said again. We should see a tamer of oxen, taken by a woman!

“Indeed,” thought Renaud, “that would be something, as she says, very laughable!” And he made his horse back a little, thinking he was freeing it, but, as if it had been moored to a wall, the horse, head and neck stretched, pulling at the fox, bends the four legs, carrying its croup, lowered , backward. The gypsy did not let go. She was laughing, showing white, fine, pretty, numerous, terrible teeth.

-Be careful! said Renaud finally, I’m going to push myself against you, with the chest of my beast!

“I dare you,” she answered calmly.

She saw with her sure eye, in the guardian’s eyes, a disturbance: the charm was working! It was now through a mist that he was looking at this woman of whom he was, out of ardent curiosity, already neighbor in love, the strange captive. She was smiling.

This lasted for some time…. Renaud, in the end, felt stupid. To remain faithful to Livette, whom he could not betray, however, with the very one for whom he had promised himself to avenge her, he had to not dismount, for, by dismounting, he would have become the strongest. ! To remain faithful, he had to bravely remain the vanquished, in this struggle of beauty against strength. And he was waiting.{66}

She caught the guardian’s gaze, for a moment diverted towards the plain.

—Ah! ha! you’re afraid they’ll see you, coward!… but don’t worry! We’ll always know what’s happening to you…. I’ll take pains! You will come and tell me some day what your pale, snow-blooded blonde has told you!

Humiliated to be thus forced to obey a woman, but made undecided and weak by the physical joy she gave him, he therefore remained there! His animal, which he excited without violating it, several times tried to set himself free, without succeeding. Renaud looked on…. Light, supple as a little tiger-cat, agile and strong—skilled in wrestling with a horse—the gypsy, whose left hand did not let go of the cruel rope, had twisted the long mane, seized first with the full grip, around the other hand, and when the horse stood up,—thus clutching at him, she allowed herself to be lifted from the ground, quite straight, the tips of her toes stretched and clenched, or else, obliquely, she clung her feet to the horseman’s leg, clinging to him like an octopus, with her straps, sticking to the rock, and still laughing, with an obstinate air,

“You will never get rid of me again!”

In the long run, more and more worried, he hated her like a malevolent insect, seen in a dream,{67}spider or poison fly, which would begin to follow you stubbornly, or like a snake which, seized with intelligent, strange hatred, would persist in your tracks, implacably patient, and would become dreadful, despite the inoffensive smallness, by the supernatural relentlessness.

And indeed, the raging firmness, the malignant persistence, the demonic stubbornness of this woman, protected by her beauty and by her weakness, were frightening.

But the play of muscles, which made this female skin ripple, shiny, now damp with sweat, interested the man, despite everything, always pleased him more. Desire in him awoke. And, immediately, he no longer accepted his defeat, had a revolt.

“Take care!…” he cried then, and he pushed on his horse, spurring it; but, pinched in the nostrils, the animal made only three leaps and remained motionless, breathing fire…. Poor Blanchet, who had known the caresses and treats of the young girl! he was now getting to know the woman.

Finally, the gypsy released her double prey.

—Leave! you have seen me enough! she said suddenly.

Renaud looked at her for another moment without saying anything and without moving. The force and chaos of his temptations stopped him for a second longer, stared{68}there…. This extraordinary thing (which he would never find again) was thus finished!…—Violent ideas, each clear, confused by the number, collided in his head. How had he not ended this fight sooner? What would we say of him when we found out? How could he, who was the king of the moor, not bend down to pick up this joy? But Livette!… Ah yes! Livette!

He plunged his two spurs abruptly into the stomach of Blanchet, who flew towards the Saintes.

The gypsy, standing on the shore, gazed at her fugitive for a long time. She was smiling. She replayed in herself the vicissitudes of the struggle, and measured her victory. She recalled one by one, to fully enjoy them, the ideas that had passed through her mind when she had walked towards the shore.

She hadn’t premeditated her attack, and her first thought had been to pick up a few stones to throw them, being skilful, at Renaud’s head…. But she hadn’t found any. So she had continued on her way, not knowing what she was going to do, but certain of having to do something against this insolent Christian.

Then, as soon as she had felt her beautiful bare breast cool out of the water, she had said to herself, in her mysterious language, full of cabalistic images and words, that if a saint had been able to pay , nothing{69}that by showing him her naked beauty, a boatman her friend,—a heathen could well, by such means, chastise a brutal herdsman, for love is witchcraft, it is -bitter, the plant with two flavors, balm and poison at the same time; and the woman is bitter as the salt water of the sea, dreadful as death, and her hands are chains stronger than iron, and her whole being is formidable as an army!

She, who was dark, almost black in skin compared to the whiteness of blondes, couldn’t she command, if she wanted to, this lover of pale Livette? In truth, for him to be unfaithful to his blonde betrothed, what else was needed but to show herself to him, and couldn’t she do it without seeming to think about it? Undoubtedly, insulted by this Christian, she could pretend to forget, in anger, her nudity, and attack him with this very nudity!… No, no, there was no need for philtres, magic words, of flames lit at night, at the new moon, under the tripods where the water of the swamp is bubbling, full of snakes, to bewitch this one!… She would come out of the water, naked and beautiful as she was, and the demon, at his command, would do the rest!… What were stones thrown at a young man,{70}charms. She knew it—being a witch like any other, the woman! It was her body’s desire that she was going to cast into him like a curse; with which she was going to poison him… and then, calmly, she would watch the ravages of the poison.

So she had come forward, small and formidable, the queen! She also knew that formerly, in the time of the pagans of Europe, a goddess, an immortal, had come out of the sea, had sprung up, blonde and naked, like a marvelous flower, and that, standing on the blue waters, her feet in a shell of mother-of-pearl, she had long commanded men,—before the reign of Christ Jesus.

Renaud, turning round in his saddle, saw the gipsy, still quite naked and standing, stretching her arms in the sun, as if she wanted, from afar still, to astonish and fascinate Livette’s fiancé with her beauty.

The sun had disappeared behind the line of the horizon, and it was against a copper-red sky that the silhouette of the naked woman stood out in black, more mysterious in the twilight.