At the beginning of the XXth Century, Frederic Mistral is both a hero and a legend. Because he had interested the whole world in Oc speech which was dying out, and had drawn attention to the charms of the Rhone’s fairies and sorcerers… But although he plunged his contemporaries into a dream world, the “Wise Man of the West” was not a dreamer… He was more of a sturdy general who mobilised all the defenders of Occitan culture to create the last, but also the most ingenious, romantic illusion of the century. He knew all the local cultures of Europe and elsewhere. He was passionate about occultism too, as well as esoteric religions, and he even believed in reincarnation. Perhaps he had read the theosophs or rubbed shoulders with the spiritists, who, followers of Allan Kardec, were legion at the time. But the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature answers those who question him, like a journalist of this epoch, that his faith in the transmigration of the soul and its faculty to live again in another, very different body, comes quite simply from a dog. A very singular dog it is true. A dog like none that had ever before been seen between Aix and the Saintes-Maries, and whose story he tells…
“Dear friend, you are interested in magical stories… You think that there are unknown forces and that we are surrounded by Spirit. Well, I’ll tell you a secret: I believe it too! And if I believe it, it is because of a dog!
“He was a dog of a race that no-one had ever seen around here. I met him one evening. He ran straight up to me. He looked at me, and he never left me. So, I took him back home, since he had chosen me for his master. And I called him Pan Perdu. Pan Perdu is the name of a troubadour dwarf in our legends of the South of France.
“His gaze was extraordinarily piercing when he looked fixedly at me. A gaze which made me uncomfortable, and made me think: but it’s not possible, it’s a human gaze!…
“No-one had ever seen this dog anywhere, absolutely no-one, before I met him. Right!… So he is installed in our house. It’s Autumn. On the Day of the Dead [All Saints Day – Ist November], my wife and her maid go to take a crown [wreath] to my family’s tomb. As you know, our cemetery is walled and locked by a grille. Pan Perdu was trotting behind my wife. He had never entered the cemetery…
“My wife opened the grille, and Pan Perdu passes in front of her and disappears into the trees. And guess where my wife and the maid found him? Lying on the tomb of my ancestors! He was waiting for them. How did this strange dog recognize my family’s tomb among the hundreds that were there?…
“My wife, with her maid as witness, told me about it when they came back. She was very shaken, you know, and still pale… Well, starting from there, I became convinced that the dog Pan Perdu was the spirit of a dead friend, or of one of my ancestors, specially come to me to protect me. Do you find that stupid?”
The journalist replies:
“No. But it’s perhaps just a question of flair. Your dog smelled traces of your presence around this tomb…”
“Certainly not! Neither my wife, nor myself, nor anyone among us had come to the cemetery for a year…”
“But did you finally find out where the dog came from?”
“Listen, I think that this dog came on purpose from America to find his true master, that is to say me, because the spirit of one of my ancestors reincarnated in him, and that he looked for me throughout the Earth!…”
“Your dog came from America? He swam and walked?”
“No! He came by boat and rail…”
“Well, you know that in 1889, for the Exhibition, Buffalo Bill came to Paris, with his horses, his troupe of Redskins, and a pack of little Indian dogs. After the Exhibition, Buffalo Bill went to Marseille, where he gave some performances. Then, my dog, I say “my” dog, the one who was meant for me and who was looking for me throughout the world, escaped from a wagon at Tarascon or Arles, and came here… As you know, and as the whole of France knows, I look a lot like Buffalo Bill. I wear big hats like his and I have the same pointy beard. When he saw me, he ran towards me, like he would have run to Buffalo Bill, but I was really the one that he was looking for. And you know where he was waiting for me, that evening, when I was walking in the countryside? Well, he was waiting right behind the house where I was born, and that I had left a long time ago. He was waiting for me at the foot of the big black cypresses. And it was there that I always played when I was little.
“And, my dear friend, I call that an exaggerated coincidence. So exaggerated, that it resembles predestination, destiny, and a long voyage of a soul who was looking for me in the body of a little dog. And I have other proofs…
“I had a neighbour, an old man called Eynaud. Eynaud had been, in his youth, a labourer employed by my father, and I loved him a lot when I was a child. As soon as Pan Perdu came to my place, he went to visit Eynaud, and he made great demonstrations of friendship to him. And then, every day, he went to visit him. And Eynaud was struck by Pan Perdu’s gaze, just like I was, and by something very loveable, mysterious and cabalistic, that he had in his eyes. And when Eynaud was about to die, with his family around him, he lifted himself up on his bed, and said: ‘Children, are you there?’ They were all expecting some last advice. And he in fact gave them some. He said to them: ‘I ask you all to take care of Pan Perdu, the poet’s dog. As long as he lives, give him fresh straw.’ And straight after that, he died…
“I conclude that very old men know great mysteries… But I want to tell you Pan Perdu’s last story…
“He was growing old. And, one day when he was lying at our feet, my wife was talking to him. She was saying to him: ‘Ah, my poor Pan Perdu, you are starting to get old! It’s a pity that we don’t have any offspring from you!’
“Two days later, the maid comes running, crying out: ‘Monsieur, Madame, come quickly to the kennel!’
“We ran, and what do you think we saw? A bitch was suckling three puppies, while Pan Perdu looked on. Yes, my dear friend, it happened just like that. And, I assure you, Pan Perdu was smiling.
“I kept one of these puppies that looked like him. I called him Pan Panet. He’s the one on all our illustrated cards… You know, those cards that are sold everywhere, on which one sees the poet Mistral and his dog…”
To be continued.