Fragrance in Literature-Nicolette a Tale of Old Provence by BARONESS ORCZY

From Nicolette; a tale of old Provence (1922)


Micheline put down her basket and throw-
ing out her frail, flat chest she breathed into
her lungs the perfumed evening air, fragrant
with the scent of lavender and wild thyme:
and with a gesture of tenderness and longing,
she spread out her arms, as if she would enfold
in a huge embrace all that was beautiful and
loving, and tender in this world that, hitherto,
had held so few joys for her. And while she
stood, thus silent and entranced, there de-
scended upon the wide solitude around the
perfect mysterious hush of evening, that hush
which seems most absolute at this hour when
the crackling, tiny twigs on dead branches
shiver at touch of the breeze, and the hum of
cockchafers fills the air with its drowsy buzz.

AND now it is spring once again: a
glorious May-day with the sky of an
intense blue, and every invisible atom in the
translucent air quivering in the heat of the
noon-day sun. All around the country-side
the harvesting of orange-blossom has begun,
and the whole atmosphere is filled with such
fragrance that the workers who carry the
great baskets filled to the brim with ambrosial
petals feel the intoxicating perfume rising to
their heads like wine.

Nicolette listened for awhile, standing still
under the orange tree, with the sun playing
upon her hair, drinking in the intoxicating
perfume of orange-blossoms that lulled her
mind to dreams of what could never, never be.
But anon she, too, joined in the song, and as
her voice had been trained by a celebrated
music-master of Avignon, and was of a pecu-
liarly pure and rich quality, it rose above the
quaint, harsh tones that came from untutored
throats, imtil one by one these became hushed,
and boys and girls ceased to laugh and to *
chatter, and listened.

At one moment Bertrand looked round,
and their eyes met. In that glance the whole
of his childhood seemed to be mirrored: the
woods, the long, rafted corridors, the mad, glad
pranks of boyhood, the climbs up the moun-
tain-side, the races up the terraced gradients,
the slaying of dragons and rescuing of captive
maidens. And all at once he threw back his
head and laughed, just laughed from the sheer
joy of these memories of the past and delight
in the present; joy at finding himself here,
amidst the mountains of old Provence, whose
summits and crags dissolved in the brilliant
Bjzure overhead, with the perfume of orange-
blossom going to his head like wine.

And almost unconsciously he found himself
presently wandering through the woods. The
evening air was warm and fragrant and so
clear, so clear in the moonlight that every tiny
twig and delicate leaf of olive and mimosa
cast a sharp, trenchant shadow as if carved
with a knife.


Bertrand stood quite still watching the glint
of her white cap and her fichu between the
olive trees. She seemed indeed a sprite: he
could not see her feet, but her movements were
so swift that he was sure they could not touch
the ground, but that she was floating upwards
on the bosom of a cloud. The little white cap
from afar looked like a tiny light on the crown
of her head and the ends of her fichu trailed
behind her like wings. Soon she was gone.
He could no longer see her. The slope was
steep and the scrub was dense. It had en-
folded her and hidden her as the wood hides
its nymphs, and the voice of the mountain
stream mocked him because his eyes were not
keen enough to see. Overhead the stars with
myriads of eyes could watch her progress up
the heights, whilst he remained below and
could no longer see. But the air remained
fragrant with the odour of dried lavender and
sim-kissed herbs, and from the woods around
there came in sweet, lulling waves, wafted to
his nostrils, the scent of rosemary which is for
remembrance.

At the mas they are harvesting the big
grove to-day, the one that lies down in the
valley, close to the road-side. There are over
five hundred trees, so laden with flowers that,
even after heavy thinning down, there will
be a huge crop of fruit at Christmas-time.
Through the fragrant air, the fresh young
voices of the gatherers resound, echoing
against the distant hills, chattering, shouting,
laughing, oh I laughing all the time, for they
are boys and girls together and all are be-
trothed to one another in accordance to old
Provencal traditions which decrees that lads
and maidens be tokened from the time when
they emerge out of childhood and the life of
labour on a farm begins : so that Meon is best
known as the betrothed of Petrone or Magde-
leine as the fiancee of Gaucelme.


Large sheets are spread under the trees, and
the boys, on ladders, pick the flowers and drop
them lightly down. It requires a very gentle
hand to be a good picker, because the delicate
petals must on no account be bruised and all
around the trees where the girls stand, hold-
ing up the sheet, the air is filled as with
myriads of sweet-scented fluttering snow-
flakes.

Jaume Deydier, in addition to his special
process for the manufacture of olive oil, has
a secret one for the extraction of neroli, a
sweet oil obtained from orange-blossom, and
for distilling orange-flower water, a specific
famed throughout the world for the cure of
those attacks of nerves to which great ladies
are subject. Therefore, at the mas, the fra-
grant harvest is of great importance.