The fair of Beaucaire.
There was magic, to my young ears, in the very name of the Fair of Beaucaire. Beaucaire is only ten miles from Nismes, therefore no wonder I heard plenty about it. It is true, that in my time, the world-famous fair did not exercise so vast an influence on commercial affairs In general, as in the old days, when it was the great market of France; and not only France, but of all civilized countries. With what enjoyment would I hear my grandfather relate how great caravans of wealthy merchants would assemble for mutual protection, because of the audacious outlaws, often headed by some powerful baron, who lay in wait for them to despoil them of their merchandise, and often to carry them off prisoners and extort heavy ransom. My grandfather would tell hew long files of mules, laden with rich silks, cloths, serges, camlets, and furs, from Montpelier, from Narbonne, from Toulouse, from Carcassonne, and other places, would wend towards Beaucaire, as the day called the Feast of St. Magdalene approached, on which the fair was opened. The roads were then thronged with travelers; the city was choke-full of strangers; not a bed to be had, unless long preengaged, for love or money. The shops exhibited the utmost profusion of rich goods; hospitality was exercised without grudging; old friends met from year to year; matches between their children were frequently concerted; bargains were struck, and commercial bills were commonly made payable at the Fair of Beaucaire. The crowd was immense while it lasted; a hundred thousand strangers being generally present.
Thus, you can easily conceive what charms such a lively scene had for the young; while to the old it was the crown of their industry during the year. Those at a distance, finding communications difficult and journeys expensive, were glad to make an annual pilgrimage serve their turn, when they were certain of meeting their fellow-traders, and of having under their notice goods from all parts of the world.
It was with great glee, therefore, that I, a youth of nineteen, started with my family for the Fair of Beaucaire on the 21st of July, 1685. Accommodation was promised us by my uncle Nicolas, and we went the day before the festival in order to see it from the beginning. I drove a large and commodious char-a-banc, in which were my father and mother, my younger brothers and sisters, Monsieur Bourdinave, my father’s partner, his two fair daughters, Madeleine and Gabrielle, and their old servant Alice, who was also their kinswoman in a distant degree.
I was held to be a smart youth in those days, by my family and friends, and certainly I had made myself as fine as I could, in the hope of pleasing Madeleine, who, to my mind, was the most charming girl in the world. Nor was she behindhand in the way of ornament, for she and her sister were dressed in their best, and looked as fresh as daisies. In fact, we were, one and all, in holiday attire; even the horse being tricked out with ribbons, tassels, fringes, and flowers, till he was quite a sight.