THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail Chapter TWO


Noiselessly, the young man had come up the five little steps from the road and onto the terrace. Feet bare, hair long and dirty, flowered tunic, Hindu collar, Afghan vest.
“I’ve just been down there,” he said. “Fantastic! I’ve been waiting five years for something like this!”
“Are you alone?”
“So far. Except for the ones who were already here. But there’s lots more on the way. They’re all coming down. And walking, too. All the pigs are pulling out and heading north! I didn’t see a single car in this direction! Man, they’re going to be bushed, but this is too good to miss. Going to smoke, and shoot dope, and walk all the way. Make it down here on their feet, not on their butts.”
“Did you get a close look down there?”
“Real close. Only not for long. I got smashed a couple of times. Some soldier, with his gun. Like I was trash. But I saw a bunch of other soldiers crying. It’s great! I’m telling you, tomorrow this country’s going to be something else. You won’t know it. It’s going to be born all over.”
“Did you see the people on the boats?”
“You bet I did!”
“And you think you’re anything like them? Look, your skin is white. You’re a Christian, I imagine. You speak our language, you have our accent. You probably even have family hereabouts, don’t you?”
“So what! My real family’s all the people coming off those boats. Here I am with a million of my brothers, and sisters, and fathers, and mothers. And wives if I want them. I’ll sleep with the first one that lets me, and I’ll give her a baby. A nice dark baby. And after a while I’ll melt into the crowd.”
“Yes, you’ll disappear. You’ll be lost in that mass. They won’t even know you exist.”
“Good! That’s just what I’m after. I’m sick of being a tool of the middle class, and I’m sick of making tools of people just like me, if that’s what you mean by existing. My parents took off this morning. And my two sisters with them. Afraid of getting raped, all of a sudden. They went and dressed up like everyone else. These real square clothes, I mean. Things they haven’t put on in years, like neat little skirts, and blouses with buttons. So scared, you wouldn’t know them. Well, they won’t get away. Nobody’s going to get away. Let them try to save their ass. They’re finished, all of them. Man, you should have seen it! My father, with his arms full of shoes from his store, piling them into his nice little truck. And my mother, bawling her head off, figuring out which ones to take, picking out the expensive ones and leaving the rest. And my sisters, already up front, huddling together and staring at me, scared to death, like maybe I was the first one in line to rape them. And meanwhile I’m laughing and having myself a ball, like when my old man pulls down the grille in front of the store and sticks the key in his pocket. ‘Listen,’ I told him, ‘a lot of good that’s going to do! I can open your door myself without a key. And I will, tomorrow. And you know what they’ll do with your goddamn shoes? They’ll probably use them to piss in. Or maybe they’ll eat them. Because they all go barefoot!’ Then he gave me a look, and he spit on me. So I spit back and got him in the eye with a big one. And that’s how we said good-bye.”
“And what brings you here? Why this village? Why my house?”
“I’m looting, that’s why. I sponged off society while it was alive, so now that it’s dead, I’m going to pick its bones. It’s a change. I like it. Because everything’s dead. Except for the army, and you, and a few of my friends, there’s no one around for miles. So I’m looting, man. But don’t worry, I’m not hungry. I’ve already stuffed myself. And anyway, I don’t need much. Besides, everything’s mine now. And tomorrow I’m going to stand here and let them have it all. I’m like a king, man, and I’m going to give away my kingdom. Today’s Easter, right? Well, this is the last time your Christ’s going to rise. And it won’t do you any good this time, either, just like all the rest.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow
“There’s a million Christs on those boats out there. And first thing in the morning they’re all going to rise. The million of them. So your Christ, all by himself … Well, he’s had it, see?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Of course not!”
“And those million Christs? Is that your own idea?”
“No, but I thought it was kind of cool. For padre talk, I mean. I got it from this priest. One of those worker types from the wrong side of town. I ran into him an hour ago. I was on my way up here, and he was running like crazy down the hill. Not in rags or anything, but kind of weird. He kept stopping and lifting his arms in the air, like the ones down there, and he’d yell out: ‘Thank you, God! Thank you!’ And then he’d take off again, down to the beach. They say there’s more on the way.”
“More what?”
“More priests, just like him … Say listen, man, I’m getting tired of you. I didn’t come here to talk. Besides, you’re just a ghost. How come you’re still around?”
“I want to hear what you have to say.”
“You mean my bullshit interests you?”
“Then I’ll tell you something: you’re through. Dried up. You keep thinking and talking, but there’s no more time for that. It’s over. So beat it!”
“Oh? I daresay …”
“Listen. You and this house, you’re both the same. You look like you’ve both been around here for a thousand years.”
“Since 1673, to be exact,” the old gentleman answered, smiling for the first time.
“Three centuries, father to son. And always so sure of yourselves, so damn sure of everything. Man, that’s sick!”
“Quite true. But I find your concern a trifle surprising. Perhaps you’re still one of us after all. Perhaps just a little?”
“Shut up before you make me puke! Maybe you’ve got a pretty house. So what? And maybe you’re not a bad old guy. Smart, and refined, and everything just right. But smug, man, so sure of your place. So sure that you fit right in. With everything around you. Like this village of yours, with its twenty generations of ancestors just like you. Twenty generations without a conscience, without a heart. What a family tree! And now here you are, the last, perfect branch. Because you are, you’re perfect. And that’s why I hate you. That’s why I’m going to bring them here, tomorrow. The grubbiest ones in the bunch. Here, to your house. You’re nothing to them, you and all you stand for. Your world doesn’t mean a thing. They won’t even try to understand it. They’ll be tired, man. Tired and cold. And they’ll build a fire with your big wooden door. And they’ll crap all over your terrace, and wipe their hands on your shelves full of books. And they’ll spit out your wine, and eat with their fingers from all that nice pewter hanging inside on your wall. Then they’ll squat on their heels and watch your easy cha4rs go up in smoke. And they’ll use your fancy bedsheets to pretty themselves up in. All your things will lose their meaning. Your meaning, man. What’s beautiful won’t be, what’s useful they’ll laugh at, what’s useless they won’t even bother with. Nothing’s going to be worth a thing. Except maybe a piece of string on the floor. And they’ll fight over it, and tear the whole damn place apart. … Yes, it’s going to be tremendous! So go on, beat it. Fuck off!”
“One moment, if I may. You told me there was no more time for thinking and talking, yet you seem to be doing a good deal of both.”
“I’m not thinking, man. I’m just telling you where I stand on things I thought of long ago. I’m through thinking. So fuck off, you hear me?”
“One last question. When they go smashing everything to bits, they won’t know any better. But why you?”
“Why? Because I’ve learned to hate all this. Because the conscience of the world makes me hate all this, that’s why. Now fuck off! You’re beginning to get on my ass!”
“If you insist. There’s really no point in staying. You’re not making very much sense. I’m sure you have an excellent brain, but I do think it’s been a trifle muddled. Someone has done a fine job. Well now, I’ll be on my way. Just let me get my hat.”
The old gentleman stepped inside. He came out a moment later with a shotgun.
“What’s that for?” the young man asked.
“Why, I’m going to kill you, of course! My world won’t live past morning, more than likely, and I fully intend to enjoy its final moments. And enjoy them I shall, more than you can possibly imagine! I’m going to live myself a second life. Tonight, right here. And I think it should be even better than the first. Of course, since all of my kind have left, I intend to live it alone.”
“And me?”
“You? Why, you’re not my kind. We couldn’t be more unlike. Surely I don’t want to ruin this one last night, this quintessential night, with someone like you. Oh no, I’m going to kill you.”
“You can’t. You won’t know how. I bet you’ve never killed anyone.”
“Precisely. I’ve always led a rather quiet life. A professor of literature who loved his work, that’s all. No war ever called me to serve, and, frankly, the spectacle of pointless butchery makes me ill. I wouldn’t have made a very good soldier, I’m afraid. Still, had I been with Actius, once upon a time, I think I would have reveled in killing my share of Hun. And with the likes of Charles Martel, and Godfrey of Bouillon, and Baldwin the Leper, I’m sure I would have shown a certain zeal in poking my blade through Arab flesh. I might have fallen before Byzantium, fighting by Constantine Dragasès’s side. But God, what a horde of Turks I would have cut down before I gasped my last! Besides, when a man is convinced of his cause, he doesn’t die quite so easily! See, there I am, springing back to life in the ranks of the Teutons, hacking the Slav to shreds. And there, leaving Rhodes with Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and his peerless little band, my white cloak blazoned with the cross, my sword dripping blood. Then sailing with Don Juan of Austria, off to even the score at Lepanto. Ah, what a splendid slaughter! … But soon there’s nothing left for me to do. A few trifling skirmishes now and again, none of them too well thought of these days. Like the War Between the States, when my side is defeated and I join the Ku Klux Klan to murder myself some blacks. A nasty business, I admit. Not quite so bad with Kitchener, though, skewering the Mahdi’s Moslem fanatics, spilling their guts. … But the rest is all current events, a sad little joke. Most of it has already slipped my mind. Perhaps I’ve done my bit, killing a pinch of Oriental at the Berlin gates. A dash of Vietcong here, of Mau Mau there. A touch of Algerian rebel to boot. At worst, some leftist or other, finished off in a police van, or some vicious Black Panther. Yes, it’s all become so terribly ugly. No fanfares anymore, no flags, no hosannas … Oh well, you’ll have to excuse an old professor’s pedantic prattle. But you see, I too have stopped thinking and just want to tell you where I stand. You’re right, I’ve never killed a soul. Much less any of the types I’ve just conjured up, all of them standing here before me, at last, in your flesh, all rolled into one. But now I’m going to live those battles over, all at once, those battles that I feel so much a part of, deep in my soul, and I’m going to act them out, right here, all by myself, with one single shot. Like this!”

The young man collapsed in a graceful glide along the railing where he had been leaning, and wound up in a squat, arms hanging by his sides, in a position that seemed quite natural for him. The red spot over his left breast spread out a little, but the blood stopped quickly. It was a nice, tidy death. As his eyes closed beneath the professor’s gentle thumb and finger, they didn’t even look surprised. No flags, no fanfares. Just a victory Western style, as complete as it was absurd and useless. And, utterly at peace with himself—more exquisitely at peace than he remembered ever being—old Monsieur Calgues turned his back on the corpse and went inside.


Popular Posts