The _Provençal Almanac_, welcomed by the country-people, delighted in by
the patriots, highly favoured by the learned and eagerly looked forward
to by the artistic, rapidly gained a footing with the public, and the
publication, which the first year had numbered five hundred copies,
quickly increased to twelve hundred, three thousand, five, seven, and
then ten thousand, which figure remained the lowest average during a
period of from fifteen to twenty years.
As this periodical was essentially one for the family circle, this
figure represents, I should judge, at least fifty thousand readers. It
is impossible to give any idea of the trouble, devotion and pride which
both Roumanille and I bestowed unceasingly on this beloved little work
during the first forty years. Without mentioning the numerous poems
which were published in it, and those Chronicles wherein were contained
the whole history of the Félibre movement, the quantity of tales,
legends, witticisms, and jokes culled from all parts of the country
made this publication a unique collection. The essence of the spirit of
our race was to be found here, with its traditions and characteristics,
and were the people of Provence to one day disappear, their manner of
living and thinking would be rediscovered, faithfully portrayed such as
they were, in this Almanac of the Félibres.
Roumanille has published in a separate volume, “Tales of Provence,” the
flower of those attractive stories he contributed in profusion to the
Almanac. I have never collected my tales, but will here give a few
specimens of those which were among the most popular of my
contributions, and which have been widely circulated in translations by
Alphonse Daudet, Paul Arène, E. Blavat, and other good friends.
THE GOOD PILGRIM
LEGEND OF PROVENCE
Master Archimbaud was nearly a hundred years old. He had been formerly a
rugged man of war, but now, crippled and paralysed with age, he never
left his bed, being unable to move.
Old Master Archimbaud had three sons. One morning he called the eldest
to him and said:
“Come here, Archimbalet! While lying quiet in my bed and meditating, for
the bedridden have time for reflection, I remembered that once in the
midst of a battle, finding myself in mortal danger, I vowed if God
delivered me to go on a pilgrimage to Rome…. Alas, I am as old as
earth! and can no longer go on a journey; I wish, my son, that thou
wouldst make that pilgrimage in my stead; sorely it troubles me to die
without accomplishing my vow.”
The eldest son replied:
“What the devil has put this into your head, a pilgrimage to Rome and I
don’t know where else! Father, eat, drink, lie still in your bed and say
as many Paternosters as you please! but the rest of us have something
else to do.”
The next morning, Master Archimbaud called to him his second son:
“Listen, my son,” he said; “meditating here on my bed and reviewing the
past–for, seest thou, in bed one has leisure for thinking–I remembered
that once, in a fight, finding myself in mortal danger, I vowed to God
to make the great journey to Rome…. Alas! I am old as earth! I can no
longer go to the wars. Greatly I desire that thou wouldest in my stead
make the pilgrimage to Rome.”
The second son replied:
“Father, in two weeks we shall have the hot weather! Then the fields
must be ploughed, the vines dressed, the hay cut. Our eldest must take
the flocks to the mountains; the youngest is nought but a boy. Who will
give the orders if I go to Rome, idling by the roads? Father, eat,
sleep, and leave us in peace.”
Next morning good Master Archimband called his youngest son:
“Espérit, my child, approach,” said he; “I promised the good God to make
a pilgrimage to Rome…. But I am old as earth! I can no longer go to
the wars…. I would gladly send thee in my place, poor boy. But thou
art too young, thou dost not know the way; Rome is very far, my God!
should some misfortune overtake thee …!”
“My father, I will go,” answered the youth.
But the mother cried:
“I will not have thee go! This old dotard, with his war and his Rome,
will end by getting on our nerves; not content with grumbling,
complaining and moaning the whole year through, he will send now this
poor dear innocent where he will only get lost.”
“Mother,” said the young son, “the wish of a father is an order from
God! When God commands, one must go.”
And Espérit, without further talk, went and filled a small gourd with
wine, took some bread and onions in his knapsack, put on his new shoes,
chose a good oaken stick from the wood-house, threw his cloak over his
shoulder, embraced his old father, who gave him much good advice, bade
farewell to all his relations, and departed.
But before taking the road, he went devoutly to hear the blessed Mass;
and was it not wonderful that on leaving the church he found on the
threshold a beautiful youth who addressed him in these words:
“Friend, are you not going to Rome?”
“I am,” said Espérit.
“And I also, comrade: If it pleases you, we could make the journey
“Willingly, my friend.”
Now this gracious youth was an angel sent by God. Espérit and the angel
then set forth on
[Illustration: FÉLIX GRAS. POET AND FÉLIBRE.]
the road to Rome; and thus, joyfully, through sunshine and shower,
begging their bread and singing psalms, the little gourd at the end of a
stick, they arrived at last in the city of Rome.
Having rested, they paid their devotions at the great church of Saint
Peter, they visited in turn the basilicas, the chapels, the oratories,
the sanctuaries, and all the sacred monuments, kissed the relics of the
Apostles Peter and Paul, of the virgins, the martyrs, and also of the
true Cross, and finally, before leaving, they saw the Pope, who gave
them his blessing.
Then Espérit with his companion went to rest under the porch of Saint
Peter, and Espérit fell asleep. Now in his sleep the pilgrim saw in a
dream his mother and his brothers burning in hell, and he saw himself
with his father in the eternal glory of the Paradise of God.
“Alas! if this is so,” he cried, “I beseech thee, my God, that I may
take out of the flames my mother, my poor mother, and my brothers!”
And God replied:
“As for thy brothers, it is impossible, for they have disobeyed my
commandments; but thy mother, perhaps, if thou canst, before her death,
make her perform three charities.”
Then Espérit awoke. The angel had disappeared.
In vain he waited, searched for him, inquired after him, nowhere could
he be found, and Espérit was obliged to leave Rome all alone.
He went toward the sea-coast, where he picked up some shells with which
he ornamented his cloak and his hat, and from there, slowly, by high
roads and by-paths, valleys, and mountains, begging and praying, he came
again to his own country.
It was thus he arrived at last at his native place and his own home. He
had been away about two years. Haggard and wasted, tanned, dusty, ragged
and bare-foot, with his little gourd at the end of his staff, his rosary
and his shells, he was unrecognisable. No one knew him as he made his
way to the paternal door and, knocking, said gently:
“For God’s sake, I pray of your charity give to the poor pilgrim.”
“Oh what a nuisance you are! Every day some of you pass here–a set of
vagabonds, scamps, and vagrants!”
“Alas! my spouse,” said the poor old Archimbaud from his bed, “give him
something: who knows but our son is perhaps even at this moment in the
Then the woman, though still grumbling, went off, and cutting a hunk of
bread, gave it to the poor beggar.
The following day the pilgrim returned again to the door of his parents’
“For God’s sake, my mistress, give a little charity to the poor
“What! you are here again!” cried the old woman. “You know very well I
gave to you yesterday–these gluttons would eat one out of house and
“Alas, good wife!” interposed the good old Archimbaud, “didst thou not
eat yesterday and yet thou hast eaten again to-day? Who knows but our
son may be in the same sad plight!”
And again his wife relenting went off and fetched a slice of bread for
the poor beggar.
The next day Espérit returned again to his home and said:
“For God’s sake, my mistress, grant shelter to the poor pilgrim.”
“Nay,” cried the hard old body, “be off with you and lodge with the
“Alas, wife!” interposed again the good old Archimbaud, “give him
shelter: who knows if our own child, our poor Espérit, is not at this
very hour exposed to the severity of the storm.”
“Ah, yes, thou art right,” said the mother, softening, and she went at
once and opened the door of the stable; then poor Espérit entered, and
on the straw behind the beasts he crouched down in a corner.
At early dawn the following morning the mother and brothers of Espérit
went to open the stable door…. Behold the stable was all illumined,
and there lay the pilgrim, stiff and white in death, while four tall
tapers burned around him. The straw on which he was stretched was
glistening, the spiders’ webs, shining with rays, hung from the beams
above, like the draperies of a mortuary chapel. The beasts of the stall,
mules and oxen, pricked up startled ears, while their great eyes brimmed
with tears. A perfume of violets filled the place, and the poor pilgrim,
his face all glorious, held in his clasped hands a paper on which was
written: “I am your son.”
Then all burst into tears, and falling on their knees, made the sign of
the cross: Espérit was henceforth a saint.
(_Almanach Provençal_, 1879.)
JARJAYE IN PARADISE
JARJAYE, a street-porter of Tarascon, having just died, with closed eyes
fell into the other world. Down and down he fell! Eternity is vast,
pitch-black, limitless, lugubrious. Jarjaye knew not where to set foot,
all was uncertainty, his teeth chattered, he beat the air. But as he
wandered in the vast space, suddenly he perceived in the distance, a
light, it was far off, very far off. He directed himself towards it; it
was the door of the good God.
Jarjaye knocked, bang, bang, on the door.
“Who is there?” asked Saint Peter.
“It’s me!” answered Jarjaye.
“Jarjaye of Tarascon?”
“But you good-for-nothing,” said Saint Peter, “how have you the face to
demand entrance into the blessed Paradise, you who for the last twenty
years have never said your prayers, who, when they said to you,
‘Jarjaye, come to Mass,’ answered ‘I only go to the afternoon Mass!’
thou, who in derision calledst the thunder, ‘the drum of the snails;’
thou did’st eat meat on Fridays, saying, ‘What does it matter, it is
flesh that makes flesh, what goes into the body cannot hurt the soul;’
thou who, when they rang the Angelus, instead of making the sign of the
cross like a good Christian, cried mocking, ‘A pig is hung on the bell’;
thou who, when thy father admonished thee, ‘Jarjaye, God will surely
punish thee,’ answered, ‘The good God, who has seen him? Once dead one
is well dead.’ Finally, thou who didst blaspheme and deny the holy oil
and baptism, is it possible that thou darest to present thyself here?”
The unhappy Jarjaye replied:
“I deny nothing, I am a sinner. But who could know that after death
there would be so many mysteries! Any way, yes, I have sinned. The
medicine is uncorked–if one must drink it, why one must. But at least,
great Saint Peter, let me see my uncle for a little, just to give him
the latest news from Tarascon.”
“My Uncle Matéry, he who was a White Penitent.”
“Thy Uncle Matéry! He is undergoing a hundred years of purgatory!”
“Malédiction! a hundred years! Why what had he done amiss?”
“Thou rememberest that he carried the cross in the procession. One day
some wicked jesters gave each other the word, and one of them said,
‘Look at Matéry, who is carrying the cross;’ and a little further
another repeated, ‘Look at Matéry, who is carrying the cross,’ and at
last another said like this, ‘Look, look at Matéry, what is he
carrying?’ Matéry got angry, it appears, and answered, ‘A jackanapes
like thee.’ And forthwith he had a stroke and died in his anger.”
“Well then, let me see my Aunt Dorothée, who was very, very religious.”
“Bah! she must be with the devil, I don’t know her.”
“It does not astonish me in the least that she should be with the devil,
for in spite of being so devout and religious, she was spiteful as a
viper. Just imagine—-”
“Jarjaye, I have no leisure to listen to thee: I must go and open to a
poor sweeper whose ass has just sent him to Paradise with a kick.”
“Oh, great Saint Peter, since you have been so kind, and looking costs
nothing, I beg you let me just peep into the Paradise which they say is
“I will consider it–presently, ugly Huguenot that thou art!”
“Now come, Saint Peter, just remember that down there at Tarascon my
father, who is a fisherman, carries your banner in the procession, and
with bare feet—-”
“All right,” said the saint, “for your father’s sake I will allow it,
but see here, scum of the earth, it is understood that you only put the
end of your nose inside.”
“That is enough.”
Then the celestial porter half opening the door said to Jarjaye:
But he, suddenly turning his back, stepped into Paradise backwards.
“What are you doing?” asked Saint Peter.
“The great light dazzles me,” replied the Tarasconais, “I must go in
backwards. But, as you ordered, when I have put in my nose, be easy, I
will go no further.”
Now, thought he, delighted, I have got my nose in the hay.
The Tarasconais was in Paradise.
“Oh,” said he, “how happy one feels! how beautiful it is! What music!”
After a moment the doorkeeper said:
“When you have gaped enough, you will go out, for I have no more time to
“Don’t you worry,” said Jarjaye. “If you have anything to do, go about
your business. I will go out when I will go out. I am not the least in a
“But that was not our agreement!”
“My goodness, holy man, you seem very distressed! It would be different
if there were not plenty of room. But thank God, there is no squash!”
“But I ask you to go, for if the good God were to pass by—-”
“Oh! you arrange that as you can. I have always heard, that he who finds
himself well off, had better stay. I am here–so I stay.”
Saint Peter frowned and stamped. He went to find St. Yves.
“Yves,” he said, “You are a barrister–you must give me an opinion.”
“Two if you like,” replied Saint Yves.
“I am in a nice fix! This is my dilemma,” and he related all. “Now what
ought I to do?”
“You require,” said Saint Yves, “a good solicitor, and must then cite by
bailiff the said Jarjaye to appear before God.”
They went to look for a good solicitor, but no one had ever seen such a
person in Paradise. They asked for a bailiff–still more impossible to
find. Saint Peter was at his wits’ end.
Just then Saint Luke passed by.
“Peter, you look very melancholy! Has our Lord been giving you another
“Oh, my dear fellow, don’t talk of it–I am in the devil of a fix, do
you see. A certain Jarjaye has got into Paradise by a trick, and I don’t
know how to get him out.”
“Where does he come from, this Jarjaye?”
“A Tarasconais?” cried Saint Luke. “Oh! what an innocent you are! There
is nothing, nothing easier than to make him go out. Being, as you know,
a friend of cattle, the patron of cattle-drovers, I am often in the
Camargue, Arles, Beaucaire, Nîmes, Tarascon, and I know that people. I
have studied their peculiarities, and how to manage them. Come–you
At that moment there went by a flight of cherubs.
“Little ones!” called Saint Luke, “here, here!”
The cherubs descended.
“Go quietly outside Paradise–and when you get in front of the door, run
past crying out: ‘The oxen–the oxen!’”
So the cherubs went outside Paradise and when they were in front of the
door they rushed past crying, “Oxen, oxen! Oh see, see the
Jarjaye turned round, amazed.
“Thunder! What, do they drive cattle here? I am off!” he cried.
He rushed to the door like a whirlwind and, poor idiot, went out of
Saint Peter quickly closed the door and locked it, then putting his head
out of the grating:
“Well, Jarjaye,” he called jeeringly, “how do you find yourself now?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” replied Jarjaye. “If they had really been
cattle I should not have regretted my place in Paradise!”
And so saying he plunged, head foremost, into the abyss.
(_Almanach Provençal_, 1864.)
THE FROG OF NARBONNE
Young Pignolet, journeyman carpenter, nicknamed the “Flower of Grasse,”
one afternoon in the month of June returned in high spirits from making
his tour of France. The heat was overpowering. In his hand he carried
his stick furbished with ribbons, and in a packet on his back his
implements (chisels, plane, mallet) folded in his working-apron.
Pignolet climbed the wide road of Grasse by which he had descended when
he departed some three or four years before. On his way, according to
the custom of the Companions of the Guild of Duty, he stopped at
“Sainte-Baume” the tomb of Master Jacques, founder of the Association.
After inscribing his surname on a rock, he descended to Saint-Maximin,
to pay his respects and take his colours from Master Fabre, he who
inaugurates the Sons of Duty. Then, proud as Cæsar, his kerchief on his
neck, his hat smart with a bunch of many-coloured ribbons, and hanging
from his ears two little compasses in silver, he valiantly strode on
through a cloud of dust, which powdered him from head to foot.
What a heat! Now and again he looked at the fig-trees to see if there
was any fruit, but they were not yet ripe. The lizards gaped in the
scorched grass, and the foolish grasshopper, on the dusty olives, the
bushes and long grass, sang madly in the blazing sun.
“By all the Saints, what heat!” Pignolet ejaculated at intervals.
Having some hours previously drank the last drop from his gourd, he
panted with thirst, and his shirt was soaking. “But forwards!” he said.
“Soon we will be at Grasse. Oh heavens, what a blessing! what a joy to
embrace my father, my mother, and to drink from a jug of water of the
spring of Grasse! Then to tell of my tour through France and to kiss
Mïon on her fresh cheeks, and, soon as the feast of the Madeleine
arrives to marry her, and never leave home any more. Onward,
Pignolet–only another little step!”
At last he is at the entrance to Grasse, and in four strides at his
“My boy! Oh, my fine boy,” cried the old Pignol, leaving his work,
“welcome home. Marguerite! the youngster is here! Run, draw some wine,
prepare a meal, lay the cloth. Oh! the blessing to see thee home again!
How art thou?”
“Not so bad, God be thanked. And all of you, at home, father, are you
“Oh! like the poor old things we are … but hasn’t he grown tall, the
youngster!” And all the world embraced him, father, mother, neighbours,
friends, and the girls! They took his packet from him and the children
fingered admiringly the fine ribbons on his hat and walking-stick. The
old Marguerite, with brimming eyes, quickly lighted the stove with a
handful of chips, and while she floured some dried haddock wherewith to
regale the young man, the old man sat down at a table with his son, and
they drank to his happy return, clinking glasses.
“Now here,” began old Master Pignol, “in less than four years thou hast
finished thy tour of France and behold thee, according to thy account,
passed and received as Companion of the Guild of Duty! How everything
changes! In my time it required seven years, yes, seven good years, to
achieve that honour. It is true, my son, that there in the shop I gave
thee a pretty good training, and that for an apprentice, already thou
didst not handle badly the plane and the jointer. But any way, the chief
thing is thou shouldst know thy business, and thou hast, so at least I
believe, now seen and known all that a fine fellow should know, who is
son of a master.”
“Oh father, as for that,” replied the young man, “without boasting, I
think nobody in the carpenter’s shop could baffle me.”
“Very well,” said the old man, “see here while the cod-fish is singing
in the pot, just relate to me what were the finest objects thou didst
note in running round the country?”
“To begin with, father, you know that on first leaving Grasse, I went
over to Toulon where I entered the Arsenal. It’s not necessary to tell
you all that is inside there, you have seen it as well as I.”
“Yes, pass on, I know it.”
“After leaving Toulon I went and hired myself out at Marseilles, a fine
large town, advantageous for the workman, where some comrades pointed
out to me, a sea-horse which serves as a sign at an inn.”
“Faith, from there, I went north to Aix, where I admired the sculptures
of the porch of Saint-Saviour.”
“I have seen that.”
“Then, from there, we went to Arles, and we saw the roof of the Commune
“So well constructed that one cannot imagine how it holds itself in the
“From Arles, my father, we went to the city of Saint-Gille, and there
we saw the famous Vis—-”
“Yes, yes, a wonder both in structure and outline. Which shows us, my
son, that in other days as well as to-day there were good workmen.”
“Then we directed our steps from Saint-Gille to Montpellier, and there
they showed us the celebrated Shell….”
“Oh yes–which is in the Vignolle, and the book calls it the ‘horn of
“That’s it; and from there we marched to Narbonne.”
“Ah! that is what I was waiting for!”
“But why, my father? At Narbonne I saw the ‘Three Nurses,’ and then the
Archbishop’s palace, also the wood carvings in the church of
“My father, the song says nothing more than:
“‘Carcassone and Narbonne are two very good towns, to take on the way to
Bezièrs; Pézénas is quite nice; but the prettiest girls are at
“Why bungler! Didst thou not see the Frog?”
“But what frog?”
“The Frog which is at the bottom of the font of the church of Saint
Paul. Ah! I am no longer surprised that thou hast finished so quickly
thy tour of France, booby! The frog at Narbonne! the masterpiece which
men go to see from all the ends of the earth! And this idiot,” cried the
old Pignol getting more and more excited, “this wicked waster, who gives
himself out as ‘companion,’ has not even seen the Frog at Narbonne! Oh!
that a son of a master should have to hang his head for shame in his
father’s house. No, my son, never shall that be said. Now eat, drink,
and go to thy bed, but to-morrow morning, if thou wilt be on good terms
with me, return to Narbonne and see the Frog!”
Poor Pignolet knew that his father was not one to retract and that he
was not joking. So he ate, drank, went to bed, and the next morning, at
dawn, without further talk, having stocked his knapsack with food, he
started off to Narbonne.
With his feet bruised and swollen, exhausted by heat and thirst, along
the dusty roads and highway tramped poor Pignolet.
At the end of seven or eight days he arrived at the town of Narbonne,
from whence, according to the proverb, “comes no good wind and no good
person.” Pignolet–he was not singing this time, let it be
understood–without taking the time to eat a mouthful or drink a drop at
the inn, at once walked off to the church of Saint-Paul and straight to
the font to look at the Frog.
And truly there in the marble vase, beneath the clear water, squatted a
frog with reddish spots, so well sculptured that he seemed alive,
looking up, with a bantering expression in his two yellow eyes at poor
Pignolet, come all the way from Grasse on purpose to see him.
“Ah, little wretch!” cried the carpenter in sudden wrath. “Thou hast
caused me to tramp four hundred miles beneath that burning sun! Take
that and remember henceforth Pignolet of Grasse!”
And therewith the bully draws from his knapsack a mallet and chisel.
Bang!–at a stroke he takes off one of the frog’s legs! They say that
the holy water became suddenly red as though stained with blood, and
that the inside of the font, since then, has remained reddened.
(_Almanach Provençal_, 1890.)
THE YOUNG MONTELAISE
Once upon a time there lived at Monteux, the village of the good
Saint-Gent and of Nicolas Saboly, a girl fair and fine as gold. They
called her Rose. She was the daughter of an innkeeper. And as she was
good and sang like an angel, the curé of Monteux placed her at the head
of the choristers of his church.
It happened one year that, for the feast of the patron Saint of Monteux,
the father of Rose engaged a solo singer.
This singer, who was young, fell in love with the fair Rose, and faith,
she fell in love with him. Then, one fine day, these two children,
without much ado, were married, and the little Rose became Madame
Bordas. Good-bye to Monteux! They went away together. Ah! how delightful
it was, free as the air and young as the bubbling spring of water, to
live without a care, in the full tide of love, and sing for a living.
The beautiful fête where Rose first sang was that of Sainte-Agathe, the
patroness of Maillane.
It was at the Café de la Paix (now Café du Soleil), and the room was
full as an egg. Rose, not more frightened than a sparrow on a wayside
willow, stood straight up on the platform, with her fair hair, and
pretty bare arms, her husband at her feet accompanying her on the
guitar. The place was thick with smoke, for it was full of peasants,
from Graveson, Saint-Rémy, Eyrague, besides those of Maillane. But one
heard not a word of rough language. They only said:
“Isn’t she pretty! And such a fine style! She sings like an organ! and
she does not come from afar–only just from Monteux.”
It is true that Rose only gave them beautiful songs. She sang of her
native land, the flag, battles, liberty and glory, and with such
passionate fervour and enthusiasm it stirred all hearts. Then, when she
had finished she cried, “Long live Saint Gent!”
Applause followed enough to bring down the house. The girl descended
among the audience and smiling, made the collection. The sous rained
into the wooden bowl, and smiling and content as though she had a
hundred thousand francs, she poured the money into her husband’s guitar,
saying to him:
“Here–see–if this lasts, we shall soon be rich!”
When Madame Bordas had done all the fêtes of our neighbourhood, she
became ambitious to try the towns. There, as in the villages, the
Montelaise shone. She sang “la Pologne” with her flag in her hand, she
put into it so much soul, such emotion, that she made every one tremble
At Avignon, at Cette, Toulouse and Bordeaux she was adored by the
people. At last she said:
“Now only Paris remains.”
So she went to Paris. Paris is the pinnacle to which all aspire. There
as in the provinces she soon became the idol of the people.
It was during the last days of the Empire; ‘the chestnut was commencing
to smoke,’ and Rose Bordas sang the _Marseillaise_. Never had a singer
given this song with such enthusiasm, such frenzy; to the workmen of the
barricades she represented an incarnation of joyous liberty, and Tony
Révillon, a Parisian poet of the day, wrote of her in glowing strains in
Then, alas! came quickly, one on the heels of the other, war, defeat,
revolution, and siege, followed by the Commune and its devil’s train.
The foolish Montelaise, lost in it all as a bird in the tempest,
intoxicated by the smoke, the whirl, the favour of the populace, sang to
them “Marianne” like a little demon. She would have sung in the
water–still better in the fire.
One day a riot surrounded her in the street and carried her off like a
straw to the palace of the Tuileries.
The reigning populace were giving a fête in the Imperial salon. Arms,
black with powder, seized “Marianne”–for Madame Bordas was Marianne to
them–and mounted her on the throne in the midst of red flags.
“Sing to us,” they cried, “the last song that shall echo round the walls
of this accursed palace.”
And the little Montelaise, with a red cap on her fair hair, sang–“La
A formidable cry of “Long live the Republic!” followed the last refrain,
and a solitary voice, lost in the crowd, sang out in answer, “Vivo Sant
Rose could not see for the tears which brimmed in her blue eyes and she
became pale as death.
“Open, give her air!” they cried, seeing that she was about to faint.
Ah no! poor Rose, it was not air she needed, it was Monteux, it was
Saint Gent in the mountains and the innocent joy of the fêtes of
The crowd, in the meanwhile, with its red flags went off shouting
through the open door.
Over Paris, louder and louder, thundered the cannonade, sinister noises
ran along the streets, prolonged fusillades were heard in the distance,
the smell of petroleum was overpowering, and before very long tongues of
fire mounted from the Tuileries up to the sky.
Poor little Montelaise! No one ever heard of her again.
(_Almanach Provençal_, 1873.)
THE POPULAR MAN
The Mayor of Gigognan invited me, last year, to his village festivity.
We had been for seven years comrades of the ink-horn at the school of
Avignon, but since then had never met.
“By the blessing of God,” he cried on seeing me, “thou art just the
same, lively as a blue-bottle, handsome as a new penny–straight as an
arrow–I would have known thee in a thousand.”
“Yes, I am just the same,” I replied, “only my sight is a little
shorter, my temples a little wrinkled, my hair a little whitened,
and–when there is snow on the hills, the valleys are seldom hot.”
“Bah!” said he, “my dear boy, the old bull runs on a straight track,
only he who desires it grows old. Come, come to dinner.”
According to time-honoured custom a village fête in Provence is the
occasion for real feasting, and my friend Lassagne had not failed to
prepare such a lordly feast as one might set before a king. Dressed
lobster, fresh trout from the Sorgue, nothing but fine meats and choice
wines, a little glass to whet the appetite at intervals, besides
liqueurs of all sorts, and to wait on us at table a young girl of twenty
who–I will say no more!
We had arrived at the dessert, when all at once we heard in the street
the cheering buzz of the tambourine. The youth of the place had come,
according to custom, to serenade the mayor.
“Open the door, Françonnette,” cried the worthy man. “Go fetch the
hearth-cakes and come, rinse out the glasses.”
[Illustration: MISTRAL AND HIS DOG PAN-PERDU.]
In the meanwhile the musicians banged away at their tambourines. When
they had finished, the leaders of the party with flowers in their
buttonholes entered the room together with the town-clerk proudly
carrying high on a pole the prizes prepared for the games, and followed
by the dancers of the _farandole_ and a crowd of girls.
The glasses were filled with the good wine of Alicante. All the
cavaliers, each one in his turn, cut a slice of cake, and clicked
glasses all round to the health of his Worship the Mayor. Then his
Worship the Mayor, when all had drunk and joked for a while, addressed
“My children, dance as much as you like, amuse yourselves as much as you
can, and be courteous to all strangers. You have my permission to do
anything you like, except fight or throw stones.”
“Long live Monsieur Lassagne!” cried the young people. They went off and
the _farandole_ commenced. When we were alone again I inquired of my
“How long is it that thou hast been Mayor of Gigognan?”
“Fifty years, my dear fellow.”
“Seriously? Fifty years?”
“Yes, yes, it is fifty years. I have seen eleven governments, my boy,
and I do not intend to die, if the good God helps me, until I have
buried another half-dozen.”
“But how hast thou managed to keep thy sash amidst so much confusion
“Eh! my good friend, there is the asses’ bridge. The people, the honest
folk, require to be led. But in order to lead them it is necessary to
have the right method. Some say drive with the rein tight. Others, drive
with the rein loose; but I–do you know what I say?–take them along
“Look at the shepherds; the good shepherds are not those who have always
a raised stick; neither are they those that lie down beneath a willow
and sleep in the corner of the field. The good shepherd is he who walks
quietly ahead of his flock and plays the pipes. The beasts who feel
themselves free, and who are really so, browse with appetite on the
pasture and the thistle. When they are satisfied and the hour comes to
return home, the shepherd pipes the retreat and the contented flock
follow him to the sheepfold. My friend, I do the same, I play on the
pipes, and my flock follow.”
“Thou playest on the pipes; that is all very well…. But still, among
thy flock thou hast some Whites, and some Reds, some headstrong and
some queer ones, as there are everywhere! Now, when an election for a
deputy takes place, for example, how dost thou manage?”
“How I manage? Eh, my good soul. I leave it alone. For to say to the
Whites, ‘Vote for the Republic,’ would be to lose one’s breath and one’s
Latin, and to say to the Reds, ‘Vote for Henri V.,’ would be as
effectual as to spit on that wall.”
“But the undecided ones, those who have no opinion, the poor innocents,
all the good people who tack cautiously as the wind blows?”
“Ah, those there, when sometimes in the barber’s shop they ask me my
advice, ‘Hold,’ I say to them, ‘Bassaquin is no better than Bassacan.’
Whether you vote for Bassaquin or Bassacan this summer you will have
fleas. For Gigognan it is better to have a good rain than all the
promises of the candidates. Ah! it would be a different matter if you
nominated one of the peasant class. But so long as you do not nominate
peasants for deputies, as they do in Sweden and Denmark, you will not be
represented. The lawyers, doctors, journalists, small shopkeepers of all
sorts whom you return, ask but one thing: to stay in Paris as much as
possible, raking in all they can, and milking the poor cow without
troubling their heads about our Gigognan! But if, as I say, you
delegated the peasants, they would think of saving, they would diminish
the big salaries, they would never make war, they would increase the
canals, they would abolish the duties, and hasten to settle affairs in
order to return before the harvest. Just imagine that there are in
France twenty million tillers of the soil, and they have not the sense
to send three hundred of them to represent the land! What would they
risk by trying it? It would be difficult for the peasants’ deputy to do
worse than these others!”
And every one replies: “Ah! that Monsieur Lassagne! though he is joking,
there is some sense in what he says.”
“But,” I said, “as to thee personally, thee Lassagne, how hast thou
managed to keep thy popularity in Gigognan, and thy authority for fifty
“Oh, that is easy enough,” he laughed. “Come, let us leave the table,
and take a little turn. When we have made the tour of Gigognan two or
three times, thou wilt know as much as I do.”
We rose from the table, lit our cigars and went out to see the fun. In
the road outside a game of bowls was going on. One of the players in
throwing his ball unintentionally struck the mark, replacing it by his
own ball, and thus gaining two points.
“Clever rascal,” cried Monsieur Lassagne, “that is something like play.
My compliments, Jean-Claude! I have seen many a game of bowls but on my
life never a better shot!”
We passed on. After a little we met two young girls.
“Now look at that,” said Lassagne in a loud voice; “they are like two
queens. What a pretty figure, what a lovely face! And those earrings of
the last fashion! Those two are the flowers of Gigognan!”
The two girls turned their heads and smilingly greeted us. In crossing
the square, we passed near an old man seated in front of his door.
“Well now, Master Quintrand,” said Monsieur Lassagne, “shall we enter
the lists this year with the first or second class of wrestlers?”
“Ah! my poor sir, we shall wrestle with no one at all,” replied Master
“Do you remember Master Quintrand, the year when Meissonier, Guéquine,
Rabasson, presented themselves on the meadow, the three best wrestlers
of Provence, and you threw them on their shoulders, all three of them!”
“Eh, you don’t need to remind me,” said the old wrestler, lighting up.
“It was the year when they took the citadel of Antwerp. The prize was a
hundred crowns and a sheep for the second winner. The prefect of Avignon
shook me by the hand! The people of Bédarride were ready to fight with
those of Courtezon, on my account…. Ah! what a time, compared with the
present! Now their wrestling will…. Better not speak of it, for one no
longer sees men, not men, dear sir…. Besides, they have an
understanding with each other.”
We shook hands with the old man and continued our walk.
“Come now,” I said to Lassagne, “I begin to understand–it is done with
the soap ball!”
“I have not finished yet,” he made answer.
Just then the village priest came out of his presbytery.
“Good day, gentlemen!”
“Good day, Monsieur le Curé,” said Lassagne. “Ah, one moment, since we
have met I want to tell you: this morning at Mass, I noticed that our
church is becoming too small, especially on fête days. Do you think it
would be a mistake to attempt enlarging it?”
“On that point, Monsieur le Maire, I am of your opinion–it is true that
on feast days one can scarcely turn round.”
“Monsieur le Curé, I will see about it: at the first meeting of the
Municipal Council I will put the question, and if the prefecture will
come to our assistance—-”
“Monsieur le Maire, I am delighted, and I can only thank you.”
As we left the ramparts, we saw coming a flock of sheep taking up all
the road. Lassagne called to the shepherd.
“Just at the sound of thy bells, I said, ‘this must be Georges!’ And I
was not mistaken: what a pretty flock! what fine sheep! But how well you
manage to feed them! I am sure that, taking one with another, they are
not worth less than ten crowns each!”
“That is true certainly,” replied Georges. “I bought them at the Cold
Market this winter; nearly all had lambs, and they will give me a second
lot I do believe.”
“Not only a second lot, but such beasts as those could give you twins!”
“May God hear you! Monsieur Lassagne!”
We had hardly finished talking to the shepherd when we overtook an old
woman gathering chicory in the ditches.
“’Hold, it is thou, Bérengère,” said Lassagne, accosting her. “Now
really from behind with thy red kerchief I took thee for Téréson, the
daughter-in-law of Cacha, thou art exactly like her!”
“Me! Oh Monsieur Lassagne, but think of it! I am seventy years old!”
“Oh come, come, from behind if thou couldst see thyself, thou hast no
need of pity. I have seen worse baskets at the vintage!”
“This Monsieur Lassagne, he must always have his joke,” said the old
woman, shaking with laughter; and turning to me she added:
“Believe me, sir, it is not just a way of speaking, but this Monsieur
Lassagne is the cream of men. He is friendly with all. He will chat, see
you, with the smallest in the country even to the babies! That is why he
has been fifty years Mayor of Gigognan, and will be to the end of his
“Well, my friend,” said Lassagne to me, “It is not I, is it, that have
said it! All of us like nice things, we like compliments, and we are all
gratified by kind manners. Whether dealing with women, with kings, or
with the people, he who would reign must please. And that is the secret
of the Mayor of Gigognan.
All my life I had heard of the Camargue and of Les Saintes-Maries and
the pilgrimage to their shrine, but I had never as yet been there. In
the spring of the year 1855 I wrote to my friend Mathieu, ever ready for
a little trip, and proposed we should go together and visit the saints.
He agreed gladly, and we met at Beaucaire in the Condamine quarter, from
where a pilgrim party annually started on May 24 to the sea-coast
village of Les Saintes-Maries.
A little after midnight Mathieu and I set forth with a crowd of country
men and women, young girls and children, packed into waggons close as
sardines in a tin; we numbered fourteen in our conveyance.
Our worthy charioteer, one of those typical Provenceaux whom nothing
dismays, seated us on the shaft, our legs dangling. Half the time he
walked by the side of his horse, the whip round his neck, constantly
relighting his pipe. When he wanted a rest he sat on a small seat niched
in between the wheels, which the drivers call “carrier of the weary.”
Just behind me, enveloped in her woollen wrap and stretched on a
mattress by her mother’s side, her feet planted unconcernedly in my
back, was a young girl named Alarde. Not having, however, as yet made
the acquaintance of these near neighbours, Mathieu and I conversed with
the driver, who at once inquired from whence we hailed. On our replying
from Maillane, he remarked that he had already guessed by our speech
that we had not travelled far.
“The Maillane drivers,” he added, “‘upset on a flat plain’; you know
“Not all of them,” we laughed.
“’Tis but a jest,” he answered. “Why there was one I knew, a carter of
Maillane, who was equipped, I give you my word, like Saint George
himself–Ortolan, his name was.”
“Was that many years ago?” I asked.
“Aye, sirs, I am speaking of the good old days of the wheel, before
those devourers with their railroads had come and ruined us all: the
days when the fair of Beaucaire was in its splendour, and the first
barge which arrived for the fair was awarded the finest sheep in the
market, and the victorious bargeman used to hang the sheep-skin as a
trophy on the main-mast. Those were the days in which the towing-horses
were insufficient to tug up the Rhône the piles of merchandise which
were sold at the fair of Beaucaire, and every man who drove a waggon,
carriage, cart, or van was cracking his whip along the high roads from
Marseilles to Paris, and from Paris to Lille, right away into Flanders.
Ah, you are too young to remember that time.”
Once launched on his pet theme Lamoureux discoursed, as he tramped
along, till the light of the moon waned and gave place to dawn. Even
then the worthy charioteer would have continued his reminiscences had it
not been that, as the rays of the awakening sun lit up the wide
stretches of the great plains of the Camargue lying between the delta of
the two Rhônes, we arrived at the Bridge of Forks.
In our eyes, even a more beautiful sight than the rising sun (we were
both about five and twenty) was the awakening maiden who, as I have
mentioned already, had been packed in just behind us with her mother.
Shaking off the hood of her cloak, she emerged all smiling and fresh,
like a goddess of youth. A dark red ribbon caught up her blonde hair
which escaped from the white coif. With her delicate clear skin, curved
lips half opened in a rapt smile, she looked like a flower shaking off
the morning dew. We greeted her cordially, but Mademoiselle Alarde paid
no attention to us. Turning to her mother she inquired anxiously:
“Mother, say–are we still far from the great saints?”
“My daughter, we are still, I should say, eighteen or twenty miles
“Will he be there, my betrothed?–say then–will he be there?” she asked
“Oh hush, my darling,” answered the mother quickly.
“Ah, how slowly the time goes,” sighed the young girl. Then discovering
all at once that she was ravenously hungry, she suggested breakfast.
Spreading a linen cloth on her knees, she and her mother thereupon
brought out of a wicker basket a quantity of provisions–bread, sausage,
dates, figs, oranges–and, without further ceremony, set to work. We
wished them “good appetite,” whereupon the young girl very charmingly
invited us to join them, which we did on condition that we contributed
the contents of our knapsacks to the repast. Mathieu at once produced
two bottles of good Nerthe wine, which, having uncorked, we poured into
a cup and handed round to each of the party in turn, including the
driver; so behold us a happy family.
At the first halt Mathieu and I got down to stretch our legs. We
inquired of our friend Lamoureux who the young girl might be. He
answered that hers was a sad story. One of the prettiest girls in
Beaucaire, she had been jilted about three months ago by her betrothed,
who had gone off to another girl, rich, but ugly as sin. The effect of
this had been to send Alarde almost out of her mind; the beautiful girl
was in fact not quite sane, declared Lamoureux, though to look at her
one would never guess it. The poor mother, at her wits’ end to know what
to do, was taking her child to Les Saintes-Maries to see if that would
divert her mind and perhaps cure her.
We expressed our astonishment that any man could be such a scoundrel as
to forsake a young girl so lovely and sweet-looking.
Arrived at the Jasses d’Albaron, we halted to let the horses have a feed
from their nose-bags. The young girls of Beaucaire who were with us took
this opportunity of surrounding Alarde, and singing a roundel in her
Au branle de ma tante
Le rossignol y chante
Oh que de roses! Oh que de fleurs
Belle, belle Alarde tournez vous.
La belle s’est tournée,
Son beau l’a regardé:
Oh que de roses! Oh que de fleurs.
Belle, belle Alarde, embrassez vous.
But the result of this well-meant attention was very disastrous, for the
poor Alarde burst out into hysterical laughter, crying, “My lover, my
lover,” as though she were demented.
Soon after, however, we resumed our journey, for the sky, which since
dawn had been flecked with clouds, became every moment more threatening.
The wind blew straight from the sea, sweeping the black masses of cloud
towards us till all the blue sky was obliterated. The frogs and toads
croaked in the marshes, and our long procession of waggons struggled
slowly through the vast salt plains of the Camargue. The earth felt the
coming storm. Flights of wild ducks and teal passed with a warning cry
over our heads. The women looked anxiously at the black sky. “We shall
be in a nice plight if that storm takes us in the middle of the
Camargue,” said they.
“Well, you must put your skirts over your heads,” laughed Lamoureux. “It
is a known fact that such clouds bring rain.”
We passed a mounted bull-driver, his trident in his hand, collecting
his scattered beasts. “You’ll get wet,” he prophesied cheerfully.
A drizzle commenced; then larger drops announced that the water was
going to fall in good earnest. In no time the wide plain was converted
into a watery waste. Seated beneath the awning of the waggon, we saw in
the distance troops of the Camargue horses shaking their long manes and
tails as they started off briskly for the rising grounds and the
Down came the rain! The road, drowned in the deluge, became
impracticable. The wheels got clogged, the beasts were unable to drag us
further. Far as the eye could reach there was nothing to be seen but one
“All must get down!” cried the drivers unanimously. “Women and girls
too, if you do not wish to sleep beneath the tamarisk-bush.”
“Walk in the water?” cried some in dismay.
“Walk barefoot, my dears,” answered Lamoureux; “thus you will earn the
great pardon of which you all have need, for I know the sins of some of
you are weighing devilish heavy.”
Old and young, women and girls, all got down, and with laughter and
shrieks, every one began to prepare themselves for wading, taking off
their shoes and tucking up their clothes. The drivers took the children
astride on their shoulders, and Mathieu gallantly offered himself to the
old lady in our waggon, the mother of the pretty Alarde:
“If you mount on my back,” he said, “I will undertake to carry you
safely to the ‘Dead Goat.’” The old lady, who was so fat she walked with
difficulty even on dry ground, did not refuse such a noble offer.
“You, my Frédéric, can charge yourself with Alarde,” said Mathieu with a
wink to me, “and we will change from time to time to refresh ourselves,
And forthwith we each took up our burden without further ceremony, an
example which was soon followed by all the young men in the other
Mathieu and his old girl laughed like fools. As for myself, when I felt
the soft round arms of Alarde round my neck as she held the umbrella
over our heads, I own it to this day, I would not have given up that
journey across the Camargue in the rain and slush for a king’s ransom.
“Oh goodness, if my betrothed could see me now,” repeated Alarde at
intervals; “my betrothed, who no longer loves me–my boy, my handsome
It was in vain that I tried to steal in with my little compliments and
soft speeches, she neither heard nor saw me–but I could feel her breath
on my neck and shoulder; I had only to turn my head a little and I could
have kissed her, her hair brushed against mine; the close proximity of
this youth and freshness bewitched me, and while she dreamt only of her
lover, I, for my part, tried to imagine myself a second Paul carrying my
Just at the happiest moment of my illusion, Mathieu, gasping beneath the
weight of the fat mamma, cried out:
“Let us change for a bit! I can go no further, my dear fellow.”
At the trunk of a tamarisk, therefore, we halted and exchanged burdens,
Mathieu taking the daughter, while I, alas, had the mother. And thus for
over two miles, paddling in water up to our knees, we travelled,
changing at intervals and making light of fatigue because of the reward
we both got out of the romantic _rôle_ of Paul!
At last the heavy rain began to abate, the sky to clear and the roads to
become visible. We remounted the waggons, and about four o’clock in the
afternoon, suddenly we saw rise out of the distant blue of sea and sky,
with its Roman belfry, russet merlons and buttresses, the church of Les
There was a general exclamation of joyful greeting to the great saints,
for this far-away shrine, standing isolated on the edge of the great
plain, is the Mecca of all the Gulf of Lyons. What impresses one most is
the harmonious grandeur of the vast sweep of land and sea, arched over
by the limitless dome of sky, which, more perfectly here than anywhere
else, appears to embrace the entire terrestrial horizon.
Lamoureux turned to us saying: “We shall just arrive in time to perform
the office of lowering the shrines; for, gentlemen, you must know that
it is we of Beaucaire to whom is reserved the right before all others of
turning the crane by which the relics of the saints are lowered.”
The sacred remains of Mary, mother of James the Less, Mary Salome,
mother of James and John, and of Sarah, their servant, are kept in a
small chapel high up just under the dome. From this elevated position,
by means of an aperture which gives on to the church, the shrines are
slowly lowered by a rope over the heads of the worshipping crowd.
So soon as we had unharnessed, which we did on the sandbanks covered
with tamarisk and orach by which the village is surrounded, we made our
way quickly to the church.
“Light them up well, the dear blessed saints,” cried a group of
Montpellier women selling candles and tapers, medals and images at the
The church was crammed with people of all kinds, from Languedoc, from
Arles, the maimed and the halt, together with a crowd of gypsies, all
one on the top of the other. The gypsies buy bigger candles than anybody
else, but devote their attention exclusively to Saint Sarah, who,
according to their belief, was one of their nation. It is here at Les
Saintes-Maries that these wandering tribes hold their annual assemblies,
and from time to time elect their queen.
It was difficult to get in at the church. A group of market women from
Nîmes, muffled up in black and dragging after them their twill cushions
whereon to sleep all night in the church, were quarrelling for the
chairs. “I had this before you.”–“No, but I hired it,” &c. A priest was
passing “The Sacred Arm” from one to the other to be kissed; to the sick
people they were giving glasses of briny water drawn from the saints’
well in the middle of the nave, and which on that day they say becomes
sweet. Some, by way of a remedy, were scraping the dust off an ancient
marble block fixed in the wall, and reported to be the “saints’
pillow.” A smell of burning tapers, incense, heat and stuffiness
suffocated one, while one’s ears were deafened by each group singing
their own particular canticles at the pitch of their voices.
Then in the air, slowly the shrines begin to descend, and the crowd
bursts into shouts and cries of “O great Saint Marys!” And as the cord
unrolls, screams and contortions increase, arms are raised, faces
upturned, every one awaits a miracle. Suddenly, from the end of the
church, rushing across the nave, as though she had wings, a beautiful
girl, her fair hair falling about her, flung herself towards the
floating shrines, crying: “O great saints–in pity give me back the love
of my betrothed.”
All rose to their feet. “It is Alarde!” exclaimed the people from
Beaucaire, while the rest murmured awestruck, “It is Saint Mary Magdalen
come to visit her sisters.” Every one wept with emotion.
The following day took place the procession on the sea-shore to the soft
murmur and splash of the breaking waves. In the distance, on the high
seas, two or three ships tacked about as though coming in, while all
along the coast extended the long procession, ever seeming to lengthen
out with the moving line of the waves.
It was just here, says the legend, that the three Saint Marys in
their skiff were cast ashore in Provence after the death of Our Lord.
And looking out over the wide glistening sea, that lies in the midst of
such visions and memories, illuminated by the radiant sunshine, it
seemed to us in truth we were on the threshold of Paradise.
Our little friend Alarde, looking rather pale after the emotions of the
previous day, was one of a group of maidens chosen to bear on their
shoulders the “Boat of the Saints,” and many murmurs of sympathy
followed her as she passed. This was the last we saw of her, for, so
soon as the saints had reascended to their chapel, we took the omnibus
for Aigues-Mortes, together with a crowd of people returning to
Montpellier and Lundy, who beguiled the way by singing in chorus hymns
to the Saints of the Sea.
STANZAS FROM “MIREILLE”
The sisters and the brothers, we
Who followed him ever constantly,
To the raging sea were cruelly driven
In a crazy ship without a sail,
Without an oar, ’mid the angry gale;
We women could only weep and wail–
The men uplifted their eyes to Heaven!
A gust tempestuous drives the ship
O’er fearsome waves, in the wild storm’s grip;
Martial and Saturninus, lowly
In prayer kneel yonder on the prow;
Old Trophimus with thoughtful brow
Sits closely wrapped in his mantle now
By Maximus, the Bishop holy.
There on the deck, amid the gloom,
Stands Lazarus, of shroud and tomb
Always the mortal pallor keeping;
His glance the raging gulf defies;
And with the doomed ship onward flies
Martha his sister; there, too, lies
Magdalen, o’er her sorrows weeping.
Upon a smooth and rockless strand
Alleluiah! our ship doth land.
Prostrate we fall on the wet sand, crying:
“Our lives, that He from storm did save,
Here are they ready, Death to brave,
And preach the law that once He gave,
O Christ, we swear it, even dying!”
At that glad name, most glorious still,
Noble Provence seemed all a-thrill;
Forest and moor throughout their being
Were stirred and answered that new cry;
As when a dog, his master nigh,
Goes out to meet him joyfully,
And welcome gives, the master seeing.
The sea some shells to shore had cast …
Thou gav’st a feast to our long fast–
_Our Father, Thou who art in Heaven;_
And for our thirst, a fountain clear
Rose limpid ’mid the sea-plants here;
And, marvellous, still rises near
The church where we were burial given.
(Trans. Alma Strettell.)
“Good morning, Mr. Frédéric. They tell me that you have need of a man on
“Yes–from whence comest thou?”
“From Villeneuve, the country of the ‘lizards’–near to Avignon.”
“And what canst thou do?”
“A little of everything. I have been helper at the oil mills, muleteer,
carrier, labourer, miller, shearer, mower if necessary, wrestler on
occasions, pruner of poplars, a high-class trade, and even cleaner of
sewers, which is the lowest of all!”
“And they call thee?”
“Jean Roussière, and Rousseyron–and Seyron for short.”
“How much do you ask?–it is for taking care of the beasts.”
“About fifteen louis.”
“I will give thee a hundred crowns.”
“All right for a hundred crowns.”
That is how I engaged Jean Roussière, he who taught me the old
folk-melody of “Magali”–a jovial fellow and made on the lines of a
Hercules. The last year that I lived at the farm, with my blind father,
in the long watches of our solitude Jean Roussière never failed to keep
me interested and amused, good fellow that he was. At his work he was
excellent and always enlivened his beasts by some cheering song.
Naturally artistic in all he did, even if it was heaping a rick of straw
or a pile of manure, or stowing away a cargo, he knew how to give the
harmonious line or, as they say, the graceful sweep. But he had the
defects of his qualities and was rather too fond of taking life in an
easy and leisurely fashion, even passing part of it in an afternoon nap.
A charming talker at all times, it was worth hearing him as he spoke of
the days when he led the big teams of horses on the towing-path, tugging
the barges up the Rhône to Valence and to Lyons.
“Just fancy!” he said, “at the age of twenty, I led the finest turn-out
on the banks of the Rhône! A turn-out of twenty-four stallions, four
abreast, dragging six barges! Ah, what fine mornings those were, when we
set out on the banks of the big river and silently, slowly, this fleet
moved up the stream!”
And Jean Roussière would enumerate all the places on the two banks; the
inns, the hostesses, the streams, the sluices, the roads and the fords
from Arles to the Revestidou, from the Coucourde to the Ermitage. But
his greatest happiness and triumph was at the feast of Saint-Eloi.
“I will show your Maillanais,” he said, “if they have not already seen
it, how we ride a little mule!”
Saint-Eloi is, in Provence, the feast of the agriculturists. All over
Provence on that day the village priests bless the cattle, asses, mules
and horses; and the people owning the beasts partake of the “blessed
bread,” that excellent “blessed bread” flavoured with aniseed and yellow
with eggs, which they call _tortillarde_. At Maillane it was our custom
on that day to deck a chariot with green boughs and harness to it forty
or fifty beasts, caparisoned as in the time of the tournaments, with
beards, embroidered saddle-cloths, plumes, mirrors and crescents of
brass. The whip was put up to auction, that is to say, the office of
Prior was put up to public auction:
“Thirty francs for the whip!–a hundred francs!–two hundred francs!
The presidency of the feast fell to the highest bidder. The chariot of
green boughs led the procession, a cavalcade of joyful labourers, each
one walking proudly near his own horse or mule, and cracking his whip.
In the chariot, accompanied by the musicians playing the tambourine and
flute, the Prior was seated. On the mules, fathers placed their little
ones astride, the latter holding on happily to the trappings. The
horses’ collars were all ornamented with a cake of the blessed bread, in
the form of a crown, and a pennon in paper bearing a picture of
Saint-Eloi; and carried on the shoulders of the Priors of the past years
was an image of the saint, in full glory, like a golden bishop, the
crozier in his hand.
Drawn by the fifty mules or donkeys round the village rolled the
chariot, in a cloud of dust, with the farm labourers running like mad by
the side of their beasts, all in their shirt sleeves, hats at the back
of their heads, a belt round the waist, and low shoes.
That year Jean Roussière, mounting our mule Falette, astonished the
spectators. Light as a cat, he jumped on the animal, then off again,
remounted, now sitting on one side, now standing upright on the crupper,
there in turn doing the goose step, the forked tree and the frog, on the
mule’s back–in short, giving a sort of Arab horseman’s performance.
But where he shone with even greater lustre was at the supper of
Saint-Eloi, for after the chariot procession the Priors give a feast.
Every one having eaten and drunk their fill and said grace, Roussière
rose and addressed the company.
“Comrades! Here you are, a crowd of good-for-nothings and rascals, who
have kept the Saint-Eloi for the past thousand years, and yet I will
wager none of you know the history of your great patron.”
The company confessed that all they had heard was that their saint had
been a blacksmith.
“Yes, but I am going to tell you how he became a saint.” And while
soaking a crisp _tortillarde_ in his glass of Tavel wine, the worthy
“Our Lord God the Father, one day in Paradise, wore a troubled air. The
child Jesus inquired of him:
“‘What is the matter, my Father?’
“‘I have,’ replied God, ‘a case that greatly plagues me. Hold, look down
“‘Where?’ asked Jesus.
“‘Down there, in the Limousin, to the right of my finger: thou seest, in
that village, near the city, a smithy, a large fine smithy?’
“‘I see–I see.’
“‘Well, my son, there is a man that I should like to have saved: they
call him Master Eloi. He is a reliable, good fellow, a faithful observer
of my Commandments, charitable to the poor, kind-hearted to every one,
of exemplary conduct, hammering away from morning to night without evil
speaking or blasphemy. Yes, he seems to me worthy to become a great
“‘And what prevents it?’ asked Jesus.
“‘His pride, my son. Because he is a good worker, a worker of the first
order, Eloi thinks that no one on earth is above him, and presumption is
“‘My Lord Father,’ said Jesus, ‘if you will permit me to descend to the
earth I will try and convert him.’
“‘Go, my dear son.’
“And the good Jesus descended. Dressed like an apprentice, his tool-bag
on his back, the divine workman alighted right in the street where Eloi
dwelt. Over the blacksmith’s door was the usual signboard, and on it
“‘Eloi the blacksmith, master above all other masters, forges a shoe in
“The little apprentice stepped on to the threshold and taking off his
“‘God give you good-day, master, and to the company,’ said he; ‘have
you need of any help?’
“‘Not for the moment,’ answered Eloi.
“‘Farewell then, master: it will be for another time.’
“And the good Jesus continued his road. In the street he saw a group of
men talking, and Jesus said in passing:
“‘I should not have thought that in such a smithy, where there must be,
one would think, so much doing, they would refuse me work.’
“‘Wait a bit, my lad,’ said one of the neighbours. ‘What salutation did
you make to Master Eloi!’
“‘I said, as is usual, “God give you good-day, master, and to the
“‘Ah, but that is not what you should have said. You should have
addressed him as, “Master above all other masters.” There, look at the
“‘That is true,’ said Jesus. ‘I will try again.’ And with that he
returned to the smithy.
“‘God give you good-day, master above all other masters. Have you no
need of an apprentice?’
“‘Come in, come in,’ replied Eloi. ‘I have been thinking that we could
give you work also. But listen to this once and for all: When you
address me, you must say, “Master, above all other masters,” see
you–this is not to boast, but men like me, who can forge a shoe in two
heatings, there are not two in Limousin!’
“‘Oh,’ replied the apprentice, ‘in our country, we do it with one
“‘Only one heating! Go to, boy, be silent then–why the thing is not
“‘Very well, you shall see, master above all other masters!’
“Jesus took a piece of iron, threw it into the forge, blew, made up the
fire, and when the iron was red–red, and incandescent–he took it out
with his hand.
“‘Oh–poor simpleton!’ the head apprentice cried to him, ‘thou wilt
scorch thy fingers!’
“‘Have no fear!’ answered Jesus. ‘Thanks to God, in our country we have
no need of pincers.’ And the little workman seizes with his hand the
iron heated to white heat, carries it to the anvil, and with his hammer,
pif, paf, in the twinkle of an eye, stretches it, flattens it, rounds it
and stamps it so well that one would have said it was cast.
“‘Oh, I, too,’ said Master Eloi, ‘I could do that if I wanted to.’
“He then takes a piece of iron, throws it in the forge, blows, makes up
the fire, and when the iron is red hot, goes to take it as his
apprentice had done and carry it to the anvil–but he burns his fingers
badly! In vain he tried to hurry, to harden himself to endure the burn,
he was forced to let go his hold and run for the pincers. In the
meantime the shoe for the horse grew cold–and only a few sparks burnt
out. Ah! poor Master Eloi, he might well hammer, and put himself in a
sweat–to do it with one heating was impossible.
“‘But listen,’ said the apprentice, ‘I seem to hear the gallop of a
“Master Eloi at once stalked to the door and sees a cavalier, a splendid
cavalier, drawing up at the smithy. Now this was Saint-Martin.
“‘I come a long way,’ he said, ‘my horse has lost a shoe, and I am in a
great hurry to find a blacksmith.’
“Master Eloi bridled up.
“‘My lord,’ said he, ‘you could not have chanced better. You have come
to the first blacksmith of Limousin–of Limousin and of France, who may
well call himself “master of all the masters,” and who forges a shoe in
two heats. Here lad, hold the horse’s hoof,’ he called.
“‘Hold the hoof!’ cried Jesus. ‘In our country we do not find that
“‘Well, what next,’ cried the master blacksmith, ‘that is a little too
much! And how can one shoe a horse, in your country, without holding the
“‘But faith, nothing is easier, as you shall see.’
“And so saying, the young man seized a knife, went up to the horse, and
crack! cut off the hoof. He carried it into the smithy, fastened it in
the vice, carefully heated the hoof, fastened on the new shoe that he
had just made; with the shoeing hammer he knocked in the nails, then
loosening the vice, returned the foot to the horse, spat on it and
fitted it, saying, as he made the sign of the Cross, ‘May God grant that
the blood dries up,’ and there was the foot finished, shod and healed as
no one had ever seen before and as no one will ever see again.
“The first apprentice opened his eyes wide as the palm of your hand,
while Master Eloi’s assistants began to perspire.
“‘Ho,’ said Eloi at last, ‘my faith, but I will do it like that–do it
just as well.’
“He sets himself to the task. Knife in hand he approaches the horse, and
crack! he cuts off the foot, carries it into the smithy, fastens it into
the vice, and shoes it at his ease, just like the young apprentice.
“But then came the hitch, he must put it back in place. He approaches
the horse, spits on the shoe, applies it to the fetlock as best he can.
Alas! the salve does not stick, the blood flows, and the foot falls!
Then was the proud soul of Master Eloi illuminated: and he went back
into the smithy there to prostrate himself at the feet of the young
apprentice. But Jesus had disappeared, and also the horse and the
cavalier. Tears gushed from the eyes of Master Eloi; he recognised, poor
man, that there was a master above him, and above all. Throwing aside
his apron he left the forge and went out into the world to teach the
word of the Lord Jesus.”
Great applause followed the conclusion of this legend, applause both for
Saint-Eloi and for Jean Roussière.
* * * * *
Before I leave the worthy Jean I must mention that it was he who sang to
me the popular air to which I put the serenade of Magali, an air so
sweet, so melodious, that many regretted not finding it in Gounod’s
opera of _Mireille_. The only person in all the world that I ever heard
sing that particular air was Jean Roussière, who was apparently the
last to retain it. It was a strange coincidence that he should come, by
chance as it were, and sing it to me, at the moment when I was looking
for the Provençal note of my love-song, and thus enable me to save it
just at the moment when, like so many other things, it was about to be
relegated to oblivion.
The name of Magali, an abbreviation of Marguerite, I heard one day as I
was returning home from Saint-Rémy. A young shepherdess was tending a
flock of sheep along the Grande Roubine. “Oh! Magali, art not coming
yet?” cried a boy to her as he passed by. The limpid name struck me as
so pretty that at once I sang:
“O Magali, belovèd maid,
Forth from thy casement lean!
And listen to my serenade
Of viols and tambourine.”
“Were ever stars so many seen!
The wind to rest is laid;
But when thy face thou shalt unveil,
These stars shall pale!”
“So as for rustling leaves, I care
For this thy roundelay!
I’ll turn into an eel, and fare
To the blonde sea away!”
“O Magali, if thou wilt play
At turning fish, beware!
For I the fisherman will be
And fish for thee.”
“Oh, and if thou thy nets would’st fling
As fisherman, then stay!
I’ll be a bird upon the wing,
And o’er the moors away.”
“O Magali, and would’st thou stray,
A wild bird wandering?
I’ll take my gun and speedily
Give chase to thee.”
“For partridge or for warbler’s breed
If thou thy snares would’st lay,
Upon the vast and flowery mead
As flower I’ll hide away.”
“O Magali, if thou a spray
Of blossom art indeed,
The limpid brook then I will be
And water thee.”
“And if thou art the limpid brook,
I’ll be a cloud, and heigh!
I shall be gone, ere thou can’st look,
To far Americay!”
“O Magali, and though the way
To furthest Ind you took,
I’d make myself the wind at sea
And carry thee.”
“Wert thou the wind, by some device
I’d fly another way;
I’d be the shaft, that melts the ice,
From the great orb of day.”
“O Magali, wert thou a ray
Of sunshine–in a trice
The emerald lizard I would be,
And drink in thee.”
“And wert thou, hidden ’mid the fern,
I’d be the full moon, that doth turn,
For witches, night to day.”
O Magali, would’st thou essay
To be the moon, I’d learn
A soft and silver mist to be
“But though the mist enfold, not so
Shalt thou me yet waylay!
For I a pure, fair rose shall grow
And ’mid my branches sway.”
“O Magali, and though you may
Be loveliest rose, yet know
That I the butterfly shall be
Which kisseth thee.”
“Go to! pursuer, thou’lt not win,
Though thou should’st run for aye;
For in some forest oak’s rough skin
I will myself array.”
“O Magali, though thou grow grey
The doleful tree within,
A branch of ivy will I be
“And if thou dost, thou wilt embrace
Only an oak’s decay,
For in the convent of Saint-Blaise,
A White Nun, I will pray.”
“O Magali, when comes that day,
There in the holy place
Father Confessor will I be,
And hark to thee.”
“Pass but the gate, and in my stead
Thou wilt find, well-a-day!
The nuns all sadly busièd
Me in my shroud to lay.”
“O Magali, and if cold clay
Thou make thyself, and dead,
Earth I’ll become, and there thou’lt be,
At last, for me.”
“I half begin to think, in sooth,
Thou speakest earnestly!
Then take my ring of glass, fair youth,
In memory of me.”
“Thou healest me, O Magali!
And mark how, of a truth,
The stars, since thou did’st drop thy veil,
Have all grown pale!”
(Trans. Alma Strettell.)
It was in the autumn of this year 1855 that the first cloud overshadowed
my happy youth. It was the sorrow of losing my father. He had become
quite blind, and as far back as the previous Christmas we had been
anxious about him. For on that occasion he whom the festival had always
filled with joy, this year seemed overcome by a deep depression which we
felt augured badly for the future. It was in vain that as usual we lit
the three sacred candles and spread the table with the three white
cloths; in vain that I offered him the mulled wine, hoping to hear from
his lips the sacramental “Good cheer.” Groping, alas! with his long thin
arms, he seated himself with never a word. In vain also my mother tried
to tempt him with the dishes of Christmas, one after the other–the
plate of snails, the fish of Martique, the almond nougat, the cake of
oil. Wrapt in pensive thought the poor old man supped in silence. A
shadow, a forerunner of death, was over him, and his blindness oppressed
him. Once he looked up and spoke.
“Last year at Christmas I could still see the light of the candles; but
this year, nothing, nothing. Help me, O blessed Virgin.”
In the first days of September he departed this life. Having received
the last sacrament with sincerity and faith, the strong faith of simple
souls, he turned to his family, who all stood weeping around his bed:
“Come, come, my children,” he said to us. “I am going–and to God I give
thanks for all that I owe him: my long life and my labour, which He has
Then he called me to him and asked:
“Frédéric, what sort of weather is it?”
“It rains, my father,” I replied.
“Ah well,” he said, “if it rains it its good for the seeds.”
Then he gave up his soul to God. I can never forget that moment! They
covered his head with the sheet, and near the bed, that big bed in the
white alcove where in broad daylight I had been born, they lit a long
pale taper. The shutters of the room were half closed. The labourers
were ordered to unyoke at once. The maid, in the kitchen, turned over
the cauldrons and pots on the dresser.
Around the ashes of the fire, which had been extinguished, we seated
ourselves in a silent circle, my mother at the corner of the big
chimney, bearing, according to the custom of the widows of Provence, as
sign of mourning, a white fichu on her head. And all day the neighbours,
[Illustration: THÉRÈSE ROUMANILLE (MADAME BOISSIÈRE), 2ND QUEEN OF THE
women, relations and friends, came to offer us their sympathy, greeting
us one after another with the customary “May our Lord preserve you!”
And lengthily, piously, they went through the condolences in honour of
the “poor master.”
The next day all Maillane assisted at the funeral ceremony; and in their
prayers for him, the poor added always:
“God grant that as many angels may accompany him to heaven as he has
given us loaves of bread!”
The coffin was borne by hand with cloths, the lid off in order that for
the last time the people might see him with crossed hands in his white
shroud. Behind walked Jean Roussière carrying the wax taper which had
watched over his master.
As for me, while the passing-bell sounded in the distance, I went to
weep alone in the fields, for the tree of the house had fallen. The Mas
du Juge, the home of my childhood, was now desolate and deserted in my
eyes as though it had lost its guardian spirit. The head of the family,
Master François my father, had been the last of the patriarchs of
Provence, a faithful preserver of traditions and customs, and the last,
at least for me, of that austere generation, religious, humble, and
self-controlled, who had patiently gone through the miseries and
convulsions of the Revolution, giving to France the disinterested
devotion which flamed up in her great holocausts, and the indefatigable
service of her big armies.
One week later the division of property took place. The farm produce and
the “stacks,” the horses, oxen, sheep, poultry–all were divided into
lots. The furniture, our dear old things, the big four-poster beds, the
kneading-trough of iron-work, the meal-chest, the polished wardrobes,
the carved kneading-trough, the table, the mirror, all which, ever since
my childhood, I had seen as a part of my home life, the rows of plates,
the painted china, which never left the shelves of the dresser, the
sheets of hemp that my mother herself had woven; agricultural
implements, waggons, ploughs, harness, tools, utensils of every
kind–all these were collected and set out on the threshing-floor of the
farm, to be divided in three divisions by an expert. The servants, hired
either by the year or the month, left one after the other. And to the
paternal farm, which was not in my division, I had to say good-bye.
One afternoon, with my mother and the dog, and Jean Roussière who acted
as charioteer, we departed with heavy hearts, to dwell henceforth in the
house at Maillane which in the division had fallen to me.
It was from personal experience I could write later on in _Mireille_ of
Comme au mas, comme au temps de mon pére, hélas! hélas!