THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail CHAPTER EIGHT

Eight

Ballan’s smile had worked a miracle. Often a man needs nothing more to help him discover himself, praise the Lord! And Ballan, indeed, proceeded to praise Him. Though with jibe and jest, which was his particular way of being an atheist. “I tell you, God,” he said to himself, “if you’ve had to listen to that dung man’s harangue the way I have for the last three days, you must be kicking yourself for letting one smile from me turn him into such a talker! Just listen to that shit roller carry on, will you! A thousand years of poverty and degradation! All for what? To produce the most prodigious demagogue this country has ever seen rise up from the masses. I don’t know if you’re pleased with your miracle, God. All I can say is, it was bound to happen. Can a man spend his whole life grubbing for turds in all the slop pots along the Ganges, shaping them, rolling them between his fingers, day after day, and not know something about the true nature of man? He knew all there was to know. He just never knew that he knew, that’s all. Now he knows. And you and I know where he’s leading us, don’t we! … Seriously, God, is all this your idea? Well, even if it is, I’m still going to wait and see how it ends before you convince me. But I will say this much: it would certainly be your first clear-headed, clear-cut proof that you really exist …”

Down under the pier, the river was teeming with corpses, floating among the wooden pilings, and their saris, flowing free, spread the black waters with a carpet of light. A few were still struggling, but most of them had already drowned, quite dead, some since that morning, some since the night before, or the morning before, dropping like so much excess fruit from some prolific tree. … All at once a young girl fell. A dark-skinned goddess. She fell without a murmur, feet first, her bare arms, ringed with gold, straight by her sides, and the Ganges’ gelatinous waters opened without a sound to let her through. A moment later an old man fell, naked, all bones, and he sank to the bottom; then a baby, wriggling and squirming like an animal that knows it’s about to die; then a pair of children, clasped in tight embrace. Up above, no one bent down or held out a hand. Why bother? The ones who were pushed to the edge knew only too well that their turn would come, that they too would fall, pressed on by the huge throngs swarming through the port, on every dock; and their plunge to the watery deep held no meaning of death, but rather of life, as they felt themselves drawn on, at last, by a resistless force that nothing could possibly stop. On the pier, the turd eater, perched on a low, flat cart, was speaking his piece, with the monster totem still on his shoulders, stiff as a pike. But, believe it or not, the monster’s eyes had begun to shine! And his gaze grew so intense as this latterday Christopher spoke, that no one in the crowd looked at anything else. They all stood there, drinking it in. And every soul, in the light of that gaze, was filled with sacred fire at the awesome account:

“Buddha and Allah …” They groaned. “… and Siva, Vishnu, Garuda, Ganesha, Krishna, Parvati, Indra, Durga, Surya, Bhairava, Ravana, Kali The whole Hindu pantheon passed in review, and each droned name drew wails of ecstasy. “… all met together, once upon a time, and went to visit the nice little god of the Christians. They pulled out the nails, took him down from his cross. They mopped his brow, soothed him with their holy balms. And when he was healed, they sat him in their midst, gave a little nod, and said, ‘You owe us your life. Now what are you going to give us in return?’”

“Even the pope isn’t that ecumenical!” Ballan observed, as he listened, enthralled. “This shit picker beats the Christians at their own game. Ecumenism, all right, but planet-wide!”

“And so,” the turd eater continued, “the nice little god, off his cross, rubbed the feeling back into his arms and legs, shook them, twisted his neck a few times in every direction, and said, ‘That’s true. I owe you my life, and I’m going to give you my kingdom in return. Now the thousand years are ended. The nations are rising from the four corners of the earth, and their number is like the sand of the sea. They will march up over the broad earth and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city …”

There was a pause. The monster’s eyes grew dim. The turd eater suddenly seemed disturbed. He began to jerk and twitch.

“Incredible!” Ballan thought. “Who would believe it? Apocalypse, chapter twenty, seven through nine. A few changes here and there, but plain enough … Now he’s all shaken up, poor bastard! The rest just won’t come. Or maybe he’s trying to fight it back. … Yes, that’s it. Good for him!”

The monster’s eyes lit up like a beacon, a sign that the pause was over. “That’s what the nice little god of the Christians told them …”

“Whew!” Ballan exclaimed. “That was close! Do you know how the rest of it goes, God? Do you? … Well, let me remind you:

‘And fire from God came down out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet …’ Of course you know how it goes. You knew it all the time, but you kept it to yourself. Right, God? Disgusting! You just don’t have the old faith anymore …”

There, on the docks by the Ganges, in a silence that defied belief—when you consider that five hundred thousand souls were already massed by the water’s edge, and that every road to the port was submerged beneath a human flood—the turd eater took up his inspired narration:

“Yes, that’s what he told them. Then Allah and Buddha, and Siva, Kali, Vishnu, Krishna … pulled him into a circle around the empty cross. And everyone went to work. With the pieces of the cross, they built themselves a boat, a big one. One that could sail the seas and cross the great oceans. A boat as big as the India Star. Then they gathered together their necklaces and diadems, their bracelets and rings, and they said to the captain, ‘It’s only right that we should pay you. Here, take all this. You’ve traveled the world up and down. Come, show us the way to paradise …’ And so the boat put out to sea, with thousands more behind it. But the nice little god of the Christians was left on shore, running back and forth on his clumsy white legs, crying: ‘And me? And me? Why have you forsaken me?’ And Buddha and Allah called back to him through their megaphones, and the wind brought him their reply: ‘You gave us your kingdom. Now the time is past when you can give with one hand and take back with the other. But if you really are the son of God, then come, walk on the water and join us.’ The nice little god walked into the water, brave as could be. When the waves came up to his mouth and his eyes, he drowned. And no one heard tell of him much anymore, except in a holy book that no one paid any attention to after that. … And so the trip went on. It was long and filled with danger. Everyone on board was hungry. Even Allah and Buddh and Siva, Kali, Vishnu … and all the folk who had joined them. Many, many died along the way, and others were born to take their place. …

But in time the sun stopped burning hot, the air grew mild and gentle, and the Western paradise appeared, spread out before them with its streams of milk and honey, its rivers thick with fish, its fields fairly bursting with crops, far as the eye could see, growing wild for the taking. And not a soul was there, not a living soul. Which really wasn’t surprising, after all, since the nice little god of the Christians was dead. … And so the monster children began to dance on the deck of the India Star, and the people sang and sang, all through the night.

We were finally there?

A shout burst out that sounded like a cry of victory. Ballan looked up. On the totem’s utterly motionless face, he glimpsed that flap of flesh that passed for a mouth, as it opened and shut. At that providential sign, the crowd began to stir. Could that be one explanation? …

And that was how the first of the ships, the India Star, came to be boarded.

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