They were galloping

At each gallop, Renaud felt himself gently pressed by the girl’s arm. They were galloping, Zinzara and Renaud, on Livette’s horse!

What was he thinking, the guardian?

Girl or woman? He stubbornly persisted in spite of himself, out of male pride, in wanting her to be a girl, although that hardly seemed probable to him. They are ripe so quickly, these pagan females!

A breath of air passed. A masculine scent of tamarisk flowers came to their nostrils. He slows his horse’s progress.

— Go, go! she said, hurry up! Later we’ll talk… at home, Romi, out of sight.

The horse again rushed forward.

Renaud felt pride, a confused and powerful pride at being there, at treading the plain with four feet, at not knowing any obstacles, at having this woman close to him—and, over there, another one!

One, for him, was in danger, betrayed his race. And the other, if she were to learn it, for{283}would die! And, although he loved her, this thought gave him a movement, quickly repressed, of cruel joy…. Fortunately, moreover, she would know nothing… And he was intoxicated with speed and pride. , man and beast, madly unleashed.

Magnificent was the sky, dotted with more stars than the dunes have grains of sand, and the desert with quivering flowers, clinging to the twigs of the lettuces. The milky way was white like the salt of camels seen through the morning fog. One would have said that a large bridal veil trailed, torn, over the whole plain in the rumor of love.

Innumerable little white snails surmounted, like florets, the stems of the frames, of the enganes, and swayed there.

A very slow breeze passed, raising, right against the edge of the marshes, a fold of wave, thin, weak, and it sounded just like a furtive kiss, between the reeds which were in bloom…. Occasionally a lark , a flamingo, asleep in the sansouïres or at the edge of the water, spoke, waking up a little bit, and it was a fine chirping, enough to make its female or its male understand that we are there, not far.

June is not hotter. Smells of roses, very slow, very diffuse, coming from distant gardens, sometimes passed in puffs…. Over there, in the park{284}of the Château d’Avignon, the tree of Syria was throwing dust….

Renaud, after having skirted the sea, went straight up to the northeast, beyond the pond of the Lady.

He was going to the Grand-Patis. The Sambuc people had boats that he knew.

At one point they passed near a herd. Barely glimpsed bulls, in water up to their hocks, grazed the flowering reeds. White mares fled at their approach, faithfully followed by stallions careful not to lose them. The sap of May sizzled dully in the frames and the rigid enganes, in the sambucs and the tamarisks. The water itself exhaled a stronger, more lustful salty aroma. The lambrusques called for the male, who came to them in the heavy breath of the desert in sap….

Again Renaud stopped, seized with a slow and very mild dizziness.

The great current of amorous air, which bathed them on all sides, finally commanded it.

“Get down,” he said, “get down quickly!” Rest here will be good.

But she, coldly, thought of the order she had given.

“Where are we going,” she said, “we must go. I will only stay there. We must, you say, cross the Rhone?{285}Hurry then!… At a gallop! the gypsy loves the horse.

She only wanted to caress him at the appointed place. She would not submit to it voluptuously unless put by her in peril of death or pain. Any other kiss would be a triumph for him, and it was for her alone that she gave herself. She wanted, in the play of the caresses, to know that the humidity of her lip was poison, that her bite would bring agony or rage.

Firmly seated on her croup, still holding the guardian—her prey—well entwined with her arm, her bare legs hanging limply in the folds of her skirt which the wind of the race lifted, very proudly arched, she let herself go, supple, at the gallop rocking; and her pallid face, under the gleam of the night sky, close to the nape of the man’s neck—whom she was leading away, being carried away by him—was smiling….

When Herodias had obtained John’s head, she took it by the hair, from the golden platter where it lay upright, its neck encircled with blood, raised it to the level of her face, and, after having examined it, curious , her eyelids closed with long lashes, all the diaphanous pallor, suddenly pressing her mouth to the mouth, she sought, with her darting tongue, to penetrate under the lips to the coldness of the too tight teeth.{286}resentful, finding in this kiss, inflicted on the dead enemy, a voluptuous pleasure more savory than in the caresses of incest—for which he had reproached her.

Of his suspicions against Zinzara, what remained of Renaud, while she smiled in the night and the breath of her lips raced on the nape of the guardian’s neck? He was no longer thinking; He went. He willingly delayed, since he was forced to, the appointed hour. He wasn’t thinking of violence…. It was sure…. He could wait. Yet, in the midst of these deserts, still hot from the day, refreshed by the night, love was commanded, but he found waiting for it better than anything he knew…. And then, she could escape again. He shouldn’t be frightened. Over there, at the lodge, he would keep her for a while. And he went on, breathing in this salty desert, which was his—beating, with his stallion’s four unshod feet, the sands and waters, which were his—winning the horizon, which was to belong to him.

Once, however, in the middle of a swamp, his horse having water over the hocks, he stopped it again.

-What is it? she says.

Renaud turned his head, and, leaning back, called to him with the sound of his lips.

“It’s when I want!” said Zinzara in a laughing voice.{287}

And on this word, Blanchet leaping up, lifted from his four feet, caused a splash to burst around them in the water, which fell on their heads like a heavy rain.

And, invisible to Renaud, the gypsy, behind him, was smiling right up against his neck, transplanting into her hair the long golden pin she had just driven into the beast’s rump!

Suddenly, in front of them, came a cry of “Who lives?” so unexpected, in solitude, that again Blanchet jumped up.

-Who lives? repeated the voice.

-The king! replied Renaud cheerfully.

—Ah! is it you, Renaud? was answered.

It was the customs officers; but, so that we wouldn’t know the gypsy, Renaud quickly sailed out to sea.

They were near the Badon saltworks. The rectangular heaps of salt (the camels) looked like so many long, low houses, with their pointed roofs. In its shrouded whiteness, the saltworks looked like a small geometric town sleeping under dead snow. They arrived at the edge of the Grand Rhône.

Zinzara had slipped to the ground before Renaud had stopped his horse.

He descended in his turn, gave the bridle to the gypsy. She held Blanchet, who was drinking from the river.{288}

“A little oats now!” said Renaud.

He took a small bag, laid and bound across the saddle tree, from one saddle to the other, and at Zinzara’s request he emptied it into his robe stretched out with both hands.

Poor, poor Blanchet! there was only a handful of grain left.

“Wait for me, I’ll fetch the boat.”

Renaud disappeared into the clear night, behind the paddles, the willows and the reeds on the shore, drowned in a mist, pale and as if floating in the night.

Zinzara could only hear the sound of water and the tender crackling of oats under the teeth of Blanchet, who, with his long lip, was sucking the grain into the hollow of the stretched dress…. Oh! if Livette had been able to see that!

“Here I am, come!” said Renaud’s voice.

He approached, raising the two oars…. She advanced.

“Hold on to the bridle…. The horse will follow us.”

She put one foot in the boat, stood up in the back…. Blanchet followed, in the wake.

Renaud knew the current there. He crossed it diagonally and landed on the other side, more than a hundred meters below.

He tied the boat to the trunk of an alb, inspected the knots of the straps, and set off again.

We had to go back, to find, much more{289}top, a passage on the canal which goes from Arles to Port-de-Bouc. The past channel:

“We are approaching,” he said.

They had walked nearly five hours.

The joy came to him from being close to the goal. The impatience of the last quarter of an hour gripped him. He had the vision of the expected thing. He says:

“It’s in the gargate. And he explained: Into the gargate one enters as into thick water. It’s mud. The hut where we will be is in the middle of one of these muds. Ah! there, believe me, gypsy, we will be well guarded. A man lived there a long time ago; a conscript who wanted to escape fate, and, later, an escaped convict, a local, who knew. Nobody there could unearth it… Others know the place, but don’t say anything, I have my tricks. Believe me, gypsy, we will be well guarded, by death—hidden in the water around us!

They had arrived.

Renaud tied his horse to a willow, and having taken Zinzara by the hand: “Follow me,” he said. The moon was rising. With the end of a stick, he showed her, on the surface of the water, the heads of the stakes, all black among the stalks of gorse and reeds, and the wide spreading leaves of the water lilies.{290}

“Put your foot,” he said, still to the left of the stakes, they indicate the right edge of the solid path which is under water.

Renaud had taken off his shoes. She, lifting her skirts, walked bare-legged. He held her hand. They went on like this for some time. She was curious about this place. He liked it.

The water stirred a little here and there. She stopped looking at her.

“Turtles,” he said. And he added:—Here is the hut.

The hut was there, in the middle of the swamp, built on stilts, like the path that led to it. Reeds, a few tamarisks, surrounded it, making it invisible, almost from all sides. On the ash gray roof, made of siagnes, and in the shape of a millstone, gleamed in the rays of the moon, the little cross tilted back, as if knocked over by the wind.

The cabin had its back to the mistral. They entered. A match struck. Renaud took a candle from his wallet. Light danced on the walls.

The low walls were in “tape”, seized in a heavy frame. The ground was covered with a bed of reeds. A protective canvas against the moss fell down in front of the door. A fixed table adjoined the right wall, at the head of the bed; it was a flat stone supported on four squat beams driven into the ground.{291}

Renaud, on the stone, placed his candle. The gypsy, already seated on this wild bed, watched him with a fierce air. Now she felt a little too much at home, too much in his power.

The cabin was like any other in the country. The flowers of the reeds hung from the ceiling in plumes of flexible silver.

The big crosspieces of the ceiling were linked together by pegs, the butt end of which projected, and from which were still hung a few small strings, shreds of worn-out clothes. There was a hearth in one corner, made of large stones close together, and above the hearth, in the roof, a smoke hole.

At one of the ankles Renaud hung his wallet.

-Now wait for me, he said with a big laugh, I’ll take care of my horse.

She was surprised, but, having looked at him… she only thought of Rampal!

He went out, rejoined Blanchet, took off his saddle, put it on the ground and, mounting him bareback, led him at a gallop some distance away, into a pasture where he left him, after having hobbled him.

A quarter of an hour later, Renaud, his saddle on his shoulders, returned to the hut where Zinzara was waiting for him. But as he advanced along the solid path, a black ribbon, lost under a thin sheet of water, he{292}placed the stakes which marked one of the edges of the passage, and carried them from the right to the left—so that if that beggar Rampal, the only one who could dream of pursuing him in this hiding place, wanted to come there, for sure he would wouldn’t get far, and would have to stay there, bogged down at least up to his neck.

When he had moved the first twenty stakes, the only ones that could be seen from the bank, Renaud straightened up and walked briskly towards the hut. His heart at this moment was dark, and more muddy, more full of dark beasts than the water of the swamp which—glittering in the moonlight—was black below.