Life is strange. The eternal silence of spaces is nothing but an infinite rustling of invisible circles which, spinning one inside the other, leave each other, resume each other, lose each other and never find each other or intertwine forever. Life is strange. We can see a little of the beginning, not the end at all; the meaning escapes us, but all the circles make the chain and someone knows the rest.

That there are two ends to the scale is certain. Day is not night, and one is not without the other. There is joy and pain, health and sickness, luck and misfortune, life and death, for the beast of flesh and bone, good and bad in a word. And this one is a good being, and that one a bad one. Religions and morals do nothing about it, and explain nothing; but little children know it to be so, and mindless people also know it. Those who cleverly reason the thing lose it. Those who pull the thread break it. There is someone and there is something. Nothing is not, see, good people, and this old fool{140} who is drooling, seated on the terminal, at the foot of the Calvary of the Saints, in front of the church, and who holds out his hand to Livette, knows things better than we do, the two things: good and bad. This idiot, when he passed by the gypsies’ cars this morning, talked amicably, yes, talked, for a few minutes, with two or three skinny dogs who are under these cars, tied by chains; but when he saw Zinzara, the queen, looking at him, he took fright, the idiot, and ran away quickly. He got scared because there is something wrong in Zinzara’s eyes .

And now Livette, passing by, looks at him, and the idiot, who smiles, hands him, poor human larva, a glass bead—a treasure for him—which he found this morning in the filth of the nearby rivulet. . The pearl shines. She is blue. The idiot sees beauty in it, and he offers it to the beautiful girl who passes by. Livette smiles at him and he laughs at Livette, the drooling idiot who drags himself around crippled. He laughs, and feels his man’s heart, within him, vaguely open…to what? —to something which is , in Livette’s eyes, and which is good .

God is over us, and, under us, the devil. God? what do you mean? The good humanity, that which is above us and towards which we walk; this ideal, emerging from us, which, by dint of expressing itself and making itself loved, will be realized in our children. the{141}devil! What do you say? the obscure beast, the gluttonous, blind larva, which was us, and from which we are moving away.

Something is closer to mystery than the mind, it is instinct.

We are, of course, closer to our origin than to our ends, and instinct almost explains the origin to us because it is still lingering there, but our mind cannot explain the end because it is still there. very far away! Where do we come from? The beast, which crawls, can suspect it.—Where are we going? How would she know, the beast that does not fly?

The link that strongly binds us to the earth is not severed. The man forever bears the scar of his birth. He therefore sees, there again, how he is attached, behind , to infinity; but how, before , by death, he is connected with life in eternity, he does not see.

Instinct, like a glowing worm, illuminates the depths from which man emerges; but intelligence does not illuminate the depths from above where it loses itself, at the precise point where God explains himself…. Ah! God is dark!

Yes, between origin and intelligence, there is instinct, like a bridge. Between intelligence and the end, there is emptiness. Here the reason does not pass. It takes good{142}dir. Man can only easily conceive what is below. What is below, its gravity attracts him to understand it.

To understand what is above, one would need a faculty to lighten up that man does not have, a wing that is missing. Instinct here acts on the mind itself, in the opposite direction to spiritual effort.

To some minds, it comes sometimes, this faculty of removing itself; but man conceives only according to what he feels, and the time is past when we trusted to the Magi, to those who conceive more and better. Maybe we are right. Perhaps one should only conceive for oneself, and no one will know anything forever until they have earned it.

For a minute, especially in a dream, even awake, man sometimes knows . He has deep intuition; but nothing is more fleeting for man than this lively feeling for the eternal.

The best of us are blind, haunted by the memory of a flash.

Who among us has not known, having felt it, how one flies outside of oneself? The sense of mystery, barely perceived, fled from us, but who did it not penetrate, for a second?

Truth, like love, is only a second to be believed in—forever.

And these thoughts are in their place, because everything is in{143}everything. This one studies hyssop; that one the oak; Cuvier the mastodon and Lubbock the ant; but all arrive at the same point, at a point which is everything.

Do you know why the gypsies, the gitanos, the zincali, the zingari, the zigeuners, the zinganes, the gypsies, the gypsies, the romani, the romichāl (all different ways of designating the same wandering race) excite so much the curiosity of civilized peoples?

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that, very savage, very primitive, the bohemian appears among the civilized as the image of themselves in the past. The zingari are like the ghosts of ourselves.

Seeing ourselves in them again, we enjoy ourselves, seated in the security of our fixed hearth, regretting that we no longer have before us the space so dear to the animal that we once were; to no longer be in constant contact with the earth, the plant and the animal, which are the mothers from whom we come and whom we love for this. They have remained what we were at the start, and that affects us.

The second reason is that, truly, they once knew something about the meaning of life.

It is certain that they are wizards. They glimpsed the dark source, and vaguely remember it, kept the black reflection in their eyes.{144}

The look! they know its sleeping and suggestive power. They know how to subjugate, with their eyes, the soul of the weak.

The less sorcerer among them still believe that the “secret” of things has been hidden somewhere, under a stone, and, in their journeys through all the countries of the world, many times they raise heavy rocks whose shape strange seems to indicate that they can seal the mystery…. They never find, under the raised stones, but toads, vipers and scorpions; but, from the blood and venom of these beasts, they know how to compose formidable potions.

They also know the secret nature of plants, and how, cut at certain times, at certain times, according to the influence of the seasons and the rays of the moon, hemlock or belladonna have different virtues.

They are skilled in the art of poisons, the zangui. Men and women— Roma and Juwa —they excel in the art of giving herds diseases.

Their trades are only pretexts to present themselves at the threshold of houses. They are boilermakers because the art of subjecting metals to fire was invented by the son of Cain, father of the accursed. And they are saddlers because they like to frequent horses, dear to vagabonds.{145}

The zangui, originally worshipers of fire, and who no longer have their own religion, but always a little that of the country they cross, are to men what Lucifer is to the angels.

“We come from Egypt, if you like,” Zinzara would sometimes say to those of his tribe. It is there, in fact, that we were powerful and sedentary, in the days of Moses. So our ancestors were magicians of the kings of Egypt, who conquered death; but our origin is higher and more distant.

“We come from a country where the secret Power of the world has been penetrated: a dragon guards its mystery, on the top of a high mountain, in a cave, sheltered from the deluges which will come.

“Our ancestor Sudra had learned from the high priests the art of making the dragon obey him. He entered the cave and conceived the science of all things, and he resolved to use it outside, to be in his turn a powerful king among men, for why was he poor?… Why the misery and why death?

“Hardly had he conceived his project of just revolt, that the dragon wanted to devour him. Our ancestor escaped him, and then believed that, by means of the secrets he had stolen, he would be all-powerful on earth, but he suddenly realized that he had forgotten almost all of them, as if by magic. He does not con{146}were born more than those who harm, those who cause disease, pain, misery and death, all the evils from which he would have wished to free himself.

“And the high priests cursed him and his sons. Manu said against them: They will live outside the village; they will only possess damaged vases; they will have nothing of their own except a donkey or a dog. Their garments shall be those of which the dead shall be stripped; their dishes, broken dishes; their jewels will only be of iron. They will go without rest from one place to another place. Any man faithful to his duties will keep away from them. They will only have business with each other. And between them only they will marry.

“And the Tchandalas were able to flee the homeland but not the sentence.

“And this is what we are.

“The crown of Sudra is a broken circle—armed with points, like the collar of mastiffs, and his scepter is a rod of iron, broken but formidable. Because why misery, pain and death! God is bad.”

It was with this tale, set to song, that the Gypsy queen had sometimes put her son to sleep.

And when she follows with a long wicked look, on the threshold of some castle, a young mother who, on seeing her, quickly brings her little child in, here are the thoughts that the Zinzara rolls in her head:{147}“The secrets, she thinks, that our voivodes, our dukes, our princes and our kings know, can make all your cities, your thrones and your churches tremble on their basis, because why misery, pain and death ? The hour will come—we await it—when your people will be scattered to the winds of anger, unless the Magi who cursed us become your masters—but you are too far from their wisdom for that! You will be ours.

“Meanwhile, woe to those of you whom we find alone! We stare at them, and the soul of evil does the rest!…»

And this is what little Livette saw when she arrived near the camp of the gipsies.

They were a whole tribe there. Their carriages, numerous, were of different sizes, most of them built in the form of oblong little houses, rather similar, with their small windows, to the Noah’s arks which are made for children in Germany. The gypsies had lined up their cars side by side, one after the other, each facing a house in the village. The row of houses on wheels thus formed, with the houses built in the village, a veritable winding street which, if extended, would have surrounded the Saintes-Maries like a belt. Thus, for the time of their stay, the zinganes could have the illusion of being fixed there, of being Saintins, one was{148}one in front of the baker, the other in front of the innkeeper, but no one forgot that bohemian houses rest on wheels that turn and can go around the world. “I pity the tree,” said the zangui, “he watches me pass with envy…. He is jealous of my donkey’s feet.” Most of the cars were patched with multicolored planks, picked up, stolen everywhere.

The bohemian carriages were, in fact, set up behind the houses of the village, so that the inhabitants of these houses, the innkeeper or the baker, busy in front of their shop, could without affectation not appear too much in the zingane street.

The zangui alone therefore swarmed there at ease. Hardly remaining inside the cars except when they were on the way and tired or sick, they spent their days in the open air, sitting in the dust, or on the steps of the small ladders which they lowered from the threshold of their doors. down to earth; or else they remained for long hours lying under the carts in the shade, smoking pipes and dreaming.

For the moment, in the morning light, a certain number of women here and there were engaged in the same occupation: each of them, with the gestures of a monkey, was looking for vermin among the hair.{149}frizzy of one of her children, whom she held in the tight grip of her knees.

The little one, from time to time, let out a howl, when the mother inadvertently tugged or tore out one of his hair, hard and black as coal. He had then, to escape, a sly undulation, but the vice of the knees pressed him, suddenly tightened, and there were, here and there, the squawks of suckling pigs which do not want to be bled. Then the slaps to rain down and the cries to redouble. Then suddenly the most tearful of these kids stopped crying, to follow, with sudden interest, the appearance of a neighborhood hen or the antics of some hunting dog lost there and ready to steal.

As for the mothers, they went about their morning work with an automatic air which very clearly meant: “What we are trying here is quite useless, because the vermin swarm and always will swarm; but something must be done. It’s always a good busy time; and then, under the eyes of the civilized, it gives us an excellent countenance. We can see that we are clean.”

“Buy me my dog,” said one of them with a sardonic air to a bewildered villager. You will be happy with his faithfulness. He is so faithful, so faithful! that I was able to sell it four times…. It always comes back!{150}

All these women with tawny, swarthy, and even blackish skin, had hair of a singular black, dull, coal black. Some wore it up in a heavy, twisted bundle on the top of the head. Several, very young, let them hang in long, sinuous serpents on their chests and on their backs. The eyes were also a singular black, very shiny, like the black of velvet seen under glass. Life burst out there dully, without determined expression. A few mothers were going about their business while keeping their babies on their backs wrapped in a cloth that they slung over their shoulders and whose ends tied on their shoulders. The child’s head slumbered, tossed about with every movement.

The red, the orange, the blue, dominated in their rags, but tarnished, faded, drowned under the thicknesses of dirty dust;—a smoky Orient.

Many of these women held a short pipe between their teeth. The men stretched out here and there, leaning on the ground, almost all of them were smoking, placid, their sylvan eyes staring vaguely before them. They had, under their rags, great airs of pride. A few slept under the mobile cabins.

The line of cars which skirted the village was still in the shade, but, at the head of the line, the sun struck the first of these huts which exceeded, a{151}little isolated, the line of houses. This first carriage, better painted and neater than the others, was that of Zinzara, and in front, in the sun, a few Saintins had gathered, attracted by the sounds of the drum and the flute.

Livette, approaching the group, hardly suspected that opposite the car, in the innkeeper’s house, behind the curtain of a window on the first floor, Renaud had posted himself, to see, from there, at his ease, the gypsy who played the flute and who, at the same time, danced, barefoot and barearms.

The flute, a double flute, with two pipes slightly apart, Zinzara held it with great grace, and, her cheeks slightly puffed out, she blew into it, alternately raising and lowering her fingers, to the liking of a bizarre air, sometimes slow, sometimes furiously jerky. And her head was thrown back—so that she looked prouder and more aggressive than ever.

While playing the flute, Zinzara danced a mysterious dance like her. His bare feet did little more than mark a slow rhythm on the spot. His dance was, so to speak, only a game of attitudes. She varied in rhythm the undulations of her whole body which, very flexible and vigorous, became more pronounced, with each movement, under the soft fabrics. When{152}the pace was quickening, she was stamping briskly, always on the spot, as if in a hurry to get to a romantic rendezvous, when the languor began again.

Seated a few steps from the dancer, a young Bohemian, with black and vague eyes, was banging his fist, thinking of something else, on a large basque drum, around which jittered various suspended amulets, Egyptian scarabs, mother-of-pearl shells , rings, large ear rings.

And the drum seemed to say to the double flute: “Don’t worry: the male is watching. I am there, father or fiancé, I, the loud-voiced male, and you can freely sing your joy and your pain, no one will disturb you: I am watching! and it is for you that my heart beats, in my wide and resonant chest.

But in the sounds of the tambourine, the gypsy, she heard quite other things; and, smiling, blowing into her flute with two spread pipes, lowering and raising her light fingers over the holes, Zinzara, attractive to all, tight in her supple rags, which, pressed against her, alternately molded her hips or her chest ;—showing, under her skirts lifted and hooked to the belt, her bare, tawny-colored calves,—Zinzara seemed not to see the spectators.

Twenty to thirty people were looking at her, and she{153}seemed to be dancing for herself, but her witch’s eye followed, without seeming to, the slightest movements of Renaud’s head, which sometimes appeared entirely in the gap between the red-checked serge curtains behind the windows. of the cabaret, there, under the edge of the roof of the house opposite.

When she saw Livette coming, the dancer kicked very briskly, as if irritated, and from the flute escaped a cry, a shrill, prolonged war cry, like the creaking of rapidly torn silk.

Livette involuntarily shuddered and, mingling with the growing group every minute, she watched.

Zinzara made a sign and uttered, between two very loud beats, a guttural, bizarre word, which was a precise order, because a gypsy child, who had been approaching her for a while, slipped under the car, where he emerged armed with a long white wand, with which he motioned for those present to step back a little. Then he placed himself opposite Zinzara, in the middle of the first row of spectators, and turning towards them, he recommended silence to them, putting a finger to their mouth. A word of order circulated, and the assistants, more silent, understood that something was going to happen.

The dance had ended. The drum ceased to resound{154}ner at equal times. The flute alone, in the hands of Zinzara, whose fingers moved slowly, sang. It was now a crystalline voice, thin like the sound of a drop of water falling to the bottom of a basin; it was a very soft, insinuating, melancholy call, as would also be the prolongation of the call of the toad, at night, at the edge of a pond, in the echo of a rocky valley.

And, with the end of his wand, the little child pointed out to one of the spectators something which, on the ground, under the car, was crawling, approaching. It was a snake, cute, streaked with yellow and red, which was coming, attentive to the sound of the flute. Another followed, and soon there were several; there were five.

Arrived in front of the musician, between her and the child with the stick, they raised their heads, swung it slowly at first, then faster, accompanied by the rhythm of the flute…. The snakes danced, and, in its thought, each spectator, in spite of himself, compared their dance to that which he had seen just now, to that of the woman. They were the same undulations, the same malignant graces, and everyone felt a sense of anxiety at this spectacle.

Livette, surprised, disturbed by a singular emotion, thought she was dreaming. What she saw, accorded strangely, sadly, to the state of her heart. She did not know the secret, profound relationship with{155}her destiny, but she suffered the evil sadness of it. Zinzara’s gaze occasionally passed over the girl and did not stop there. About her own influence, Zinzara knew… what she knew.

Fine, fine as spun silk, the sounds of the flute became very fine, thin like threads that went to wind around the necks of the little snakes, and the little snakes began to follow the sounds of the flute, which attracted. Zinzara walked backwards. The little serpents followed her as if they had been bound by the silken threads which were the sounds of the flute. The gypsy stopped, and the sounds grew shorter, in a way, like threads wrapped around a reel. hands that still held his ever-resonant flute, the little snakes coiled around his bare arms. From there one of them climbed up to tie himself around the neck, letting his little swaying head, mouth open, tongue quivering, hang over the witch’s bulging chest. And two others, when she got up, were seen tied to her ankles, above her leg rings. So she put down her flute and began to laugh. His laugh revealed his teeth, tidy, very white.

“Now,” she said, “to whomever gives my hand, I will tell fortunes!”{156}

But, in front of his outstretched hand, no hand was stretched out because of the little snakes.

Zinzara laughed very loudly, and her laughter truly recalled certain sounds of her double flute.

Livette at that moment made a movement to retire.

“Come on, you,” said the gypsy immediately, “you once refused to hear me, but today you must have a great desire to find out where your fiancé is, my beauty! Give me your hand without fear, if you really are worthy to become the wife of a brave horseman.

Livette blushed deeply. Her two companions from earlier arrived at the same time and they had heard. “Do not let you do!” one of them said to her in a low voice, pulling Livette’s skirt from behind; but, provoked by the gaze of the zingane, in which she thought she saw a flash of mockery, Livette, not without inwardly commending herself to the holy Marys, offered her hand to the gypsy. The gypsy took this hand in hers. The serpents darted their forked tongues. Livette was a little pale.

They were both very small, the hand of the magician and that of the young lady.

Renaud, from up there, very surprised, a little worried, watched with all his eyes.{157}

The zingane kept Livette’s hand in hers for a moment, happy to feel the fluttering of the bird she was fascinating. She had hoped, moreover, to intimidate Livette, and the courage the little girl showed irritated her.

—Your future, she said, is not far from here, my dear, but not for you, know that! For who? guess what!

Livette, already a little pale, turned completely white.

“That alone, I think, matters to you, loving kind?” So I say nothing more to you, except yet this again: beware! the snake on my left wrist has just whispered something to me. Take care of your love.

There was in the group of spectators a little shudder which ran like a fold of wave on the marsh. One of the snakes, in fact, hissed finely.

The gipsy let go of Livette’s hand, who, turning immediately to leave, recognized Rampal close to her. nobody, not even Renaud.

Livette instinctively recoiled, so marked that Rampal could take it for an affront. She was, unfortunately, having left the front row, retained in the group which had closed in on her.{158}

-Oh! oh, young lady, said Rampal, we don’t know friends anymore!

“Good morning, good morning, Rampal,” replied Livette, repeating the bow, as is the custom of the country; but let me pass, then! Make way for me, I tell you!

” On the Pont d’Avignon ,” hummed the gypsy, laughing, “everyone pays passage!”

Renaud, still behind his window up there, had just recognized Rampal. Tumultuous, but shrewd, he wondered if he was going to come down on him right away, or if he would wait until Livette was gone.

Rampal didn’t always need an excuse to kiss beautiful girls—and here he had one!

“Do you hear, young lady?” he said. The toll collector will be paid with a good heart, or will pay himself!

He was holding the poor little girl by the waist, with both arms. She bent back, pushing her bodice and her head away from him as much as she could, but twice the beggar leaned over her, straining against her, his breath ardent, forcibly bringing her back a little to himself. , with full lips kissed him.

A formidable curse burst behind them, in the air. They all turned around and, raising their eyes at the noise, recognized Renaud, who was shaking the old window up there, which was difficult to open. Two more shakes, and{159}the window gave way, opened abruptly with a great crash of glass shattering, and Renaud, standing on the sill, sprang forward… touched the ground…

—Ah! the beggar! ha! the beggar! where is this geusas !

But Rampal, a minute before, had jumped on the horse that was waiting for him, tied, near there, to the bars of a low window, and galloped away.

He fled, launched as on a day of racing, almost upright in the stirrups, his body leaning, and constantly and very quickly twirling a bullwhip tied to his wrist and which, whistling against the right ears of the animal, was driving her crazy.

-Cowardly! cowardly! One of the young men in the audience couldn’t help shouting at him.

-Cowardly? oh no! exclaimed Renaud,—only thief! for if he weren’t on a horse of ours, he hopes never to surrender to us, I know him, the man, he wouldn’t run away!

And turning to Livette terrified:

“Don’t worry, young lady, our horse won’t take him to heaven!”

Did Renaud, by speaking thus, want to give the gypsy to think that he wanted to avenge the theft of the horse rather than the injury done to his fiancee? Maybe; but the devil is so shrewd that Renaud himself was unaware that this ruse was in him.{160}

As for the gypsy, she said to herself that Renaud, by jumping out of the window, instead of going down the stairs quietly, had compromised his revenge for the pleasure of showing her his bohemian suppleness. And he had indeed jumped like a wildcat, and bounced to the ground on springy paws! He was really supple like a real zingaro! He was handsome and bold as a thief! They are also gypsies, these herdsmen of heifers, these wandering leaders of cavalry!

Renaud, who had disappeared, the time to “tie” the strap of his horse, went back, after a few minutes, mounting Leprince, on the place of the scene, where those who had attended were still discussing.

-Grab it! grab it! eat it, King! shouted twenty voices of young men in chorus.

“With the King and Leprince against him,” added one of them, laughing, “Rampal is a fallen man!

Renaud was already off. He hadn’t looked at the zingane, but he had felt himself looked at by her, and he felt now, from afar, followed by her gaze; and that, on the saddle, gave him the recoveries of which he was aware, and which he vaguely reproached himself for because of Livette, but without repressing them. Well, yes, while galloping, in his anger, he galloped in a certain way, so that his very anger could be clearly seen, to appear handsome and proud rider, as he{161} indeed it was. He felt all his movements… he thought he saw himself and wanted us to see him well, the King!

The peacock, in the season of love, has more magnificent feathers and makes a wheel. The nightingale and the robin have more beautiful voices. Everyone likes to be dressed to please.

“Where are you going, Livette?” said her two friends to the young girl.

“I am going to see the priest. I must, poor me, speak to him! for, to have listened to this witch, you see, it is a great sin!