So she looked sharply at us, while I produced a letter to M. Mistral which had been given me by a humble associate of the “felibres,” a delightful chansonnier we had met at Les Baux. With this she went indoors, presently to return with a face of still cautious welcome, and invited us in to a little square hall hung with photographs of various distinguished friends of the poet and two bronze medallions of himself, one representing him with his favourite dog.
Then a door to the right opened, revealing a typical scholar’s study, lined with books from ceiling to floor, books and papers on tables and chairs, and framed photographs again on the free wall space. The spring sunshine poured in through long windows, and in this characteristic setting stood a tall old man, astonishingly erect, his distinguished head, with its sparse white locks, its keen eyes, and strong yet delicate aquiline features, pointed white beard and mustache, suggesting pictures of some military grand seigneur of old time. His carriage had the same blending of soldier and nobleman, and the stately kindliness with which he bade us welcome belonged, alas! to another day.
At his side stood a tall, handsome lady, with remarkable, dark, kind eyes, evidently many years his junior. This was Mme. Mistral, in her day one of those “queens of beauty” whom the “felibres” elect every seven years at their floral fetes. Mme. Mistral was no less gracious to us than her husband, and joined in the talk that followed with much animation and charm.
We had a little feared that M. Mistral, as he declines to write in anything but Provencal, might carry his artistic creed into his conversation too. To our relief, however, he spoke in the most polished French—for you may know French very well, but be quite unable to understand Provencal, either printed or spoken. This had sometimes made our journeying difficult, as we inquired our way of peasants along the road.
It was natural to talk first to Mistral of literature. We inquired whether he read much English. He shook his head, smiling. No! outside of one or two of the great classics, Shakespeare and Milton, for example, he had read little. Yes! he had read one American author—Fenimore Cooper. Le Feu-Follet had been a favourite book of his boyhood. This we identified as The Fire-Fly.
He seemed to wish to talk about America rather than literature, and seemed immensely interested in the fact that we were Americans, and he raised his eyes, with an expression of French wonderment, at the fact of our walking our way through the country—as also at the length of the journey from America. Evidently it seemed to him a tremendous undertaking.