From Valence to Marseilles, throughout all the Valley of the Rhone, Saint-Romans of Bellaignes is famous as an enchanted palace; and, indeed, in that country burnt up by the fiery wind, this oasis of greenness and beautiful rushing water is a true fairy-land.
“When I am rich, mamma,” Jansoulet used to say, as quite a small boy, to his mother whom he adored, “I shall give you Saint-Romans of Bellaignes.” And as the life of the man seemed the fulfilment of a story from the Arabian Nights, as all his wishes came true, even the most disproportionate, as his maddest chimeras came to lie down before him, to lick his hands like familiar and obedient spaniels, he had bought Saint-Romans to offer it, newly furnished and grandiosely restored, to his mother. Although it was ten years since then, the dear old woman was not yet used to her splendid establishment. “It is the palace of Queen Jeanne that you have given me, my dear Bernard,” she wrote to her son. “I shall never live there.” She never did live there, as a matter of fact, having stayed at the steward’s house, an isolated building of modern construction, situated quite at the other end of the grounds, so as to overlook the outbuildings and the farm, the sheepfolds and the oil-mills, with their rural horizon of stacks, olive-trees and vines, extending over the plain as far as one could see. In the great castle she would have imagined herself a prisoner in one of those enchanted dwellings where sleep seizes you in the midst of your happiness and does not let you go for a hundred years. Here, at least, the peasant-woman—who had never been able to accustom herself to this colossal fortune, come too late, from too far, and like a thunder-clap—felt herself linked to reality by the coming and going of the work-people, the letting-out and taking-in of the cattle, their slow movement to the drinking pond, all that pastoral life which woke her by the familiar call of the cocks and the sharp cries of the peacocks, and brought her down the corkscrew staircase of the pavilion before dawn. She looked upon herself only as the trustee of this magnificent estate, which she was taking care of for her son, and wished to give back to him in perfect condition on the day when, rich enough and tired of living with the Turks, he would come, according to his promise, to live with her beneath the shade of Saint-Romans.