THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail CHAPTER THIRTY
They died in great numbers on the ships of the refuge fleet, although not so many more, when you stop and think, than in Ganges villages ravaged by wars, epidemics, famines, and floods. The Last Chance Armada had simply brought with it the death rate of the Indian subcontinent. Since fuel to cremate the bodies had run out. very early, it will be recalled that the fleet, once into the Straits of Ceylon, had begun to strew the sea with its cadavers, like a Hop-o’my-thumb of tragic dimensions. Then Cape Gata, and only a score of corpses. All foreign, at that. Because, past Gibraltar, they were saving their dead. And plenty of them, too. In the last three days of the improbable epic, they were dying on board left and right. On the big ships, especially, like the India Star and the Calcutta Star.
Malnutrition, sheer exhaustion—both of body and soul—at the end of so long a crossing … It’s safe to assume that the sick and the dying who had held out only by clinging to their hope, gave up the ghost during those three days once they saw the shores of Europe and realized their dream. Others merely died of hunger and thirst, the feeblest of the lot: the old, the infirm, the misshapen little children. (Except, that is, for the dwarfs and utter monsters, treated as they were with very special care.) Indeed, by the end of the voyage, the rice and fresh water were probably so scarce, that some choice must have had to be made who would get them. Perhaps some chose to let themselves die, or perhaps they were marked out for death in the name of the general good. Cruel though it was, in any event, the plan succeeded. (We are told that the hardiest races are the ones pruned down by natural selection, today as in the past …) And so, in due time—very shortly, in fact—there will pour out over the soil of France a flood of hungry, scrawny creatures, but solid and healthy no less, and ready to pounce with all their might. The others, the dead of the last few days, thrown ashore by the thousands once the fleet runs aground, will be gently borne on the waves, and land at last in paradise as well. In the eyes of their living companions, they won’t have lost out one iota. Since ideas are the stuff that keeps man alive, death makes no great difference once the mission is fulfilled.
There was only one white still left on board the fleet, one and one only, spared no doubt because he was mad, and because he had spent a long life of charity serving a people who had learned to trust him if not to love him. He lay on the deck of the Calcutta Star, day in, day out, lying in the shadow of one of her smokestacks. Everyone knew him. Madness and decay, striking little by little, couldn’t wipe from the minds of the ones embarked with him the knowledge of who this man was. But seeing this sort of deranged ascetic, half naked in his filth-stained rags, who else would have known that a mere two months before he was still His Grace the Catholic bishop, prefect apostolic to the entire Ganges region? He could hardly remember himself. Although once in a great while he would sit up from his litter and bless the crowd around him. The crowd would laugh. His former flock would laugh too, but a few of them, just to make him happy, would trace out a sign of the cross in reply. Then he would lie back and dredge from his muddled senses those curious Latin syllables he had thought he could read in a puddle of blood on a dock by the Ganges. He wanted for nothing. He was brought food and drink. Kindhearted children would sit by at his meals and encourage him to eat, for fear that he might slip off into death, or bring him some scraps when his meal had been forgotten. Serenely insane, with each passing day he seemed to grow happy, as if some strange harmony had sprung up within him, bringing him peace. Sometimes, in the morning, he would mutter and mumble, on and on. Snatches of prayers, or verses from the Vedas. Because, after all, he had always professed—holy, broad-minded man that he was—that Truth can shine forth in many a different form. And at night, while the whole deck slept in the grip of a heavy, dank heat, old women would slither to his side. Through a fold in his rags, a hand would gently grasp at his phallus and slowly caress it, until it would swell, between shadow fingers, to spasms of pleasure, pleasure given and received, that kind of pleasure that India abounds in, and one that the old women doubtless believed the poor man should share. One woman would leave. Another would come, in the dark, silent stillness. In time, as soon as night would fall, the poor mad bishop would get an erection, as easily as others get religion, so to speak. On board, his phallus became, first, a subject of conversation, then of curiosity, and, finally, almost of reverence, Lines would form by the light of the stars to inspect it up close. Much like those secret Hindu temples, where ages on end have seen lingams carved in stone offer themselves for the crowds’ veneration. When the fleet passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, the bishop from the Ganges had become a holy man. Twice in one lifetime. God’s will be done! …