THE prospect of a settlement in Algeria casts a dark shadow over the fate of more than a million European settlers. For in its hour of supreme peril, the settler community finds itself without friends or allies. From the Moslem rebels of the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.) who for six years have fought them for independence, the settlers can at best expect toleration. The French army has ceased to fight their battles: even the abortive April 22 putsch against General de Gaulle was staged by the military with only the faintest reference to the settlers. General de Gaulle himself, if not disowning them entirely, is taking his distances. "Algerians of French descent," he called the settlers in his address of May 8.
But who, in fact, are the settlers? "The agricultural scum of the European countries," they were called by Marshal Bugeaud, the Governor-General from 1840 to 1847. Modern Frenchmen, not less contemptuously, speak of them as "pieds noirs"--the black feet. But it is a native son that has best caught the national character. Mersault, the hero of Camus' novel "l'Etranger," is the archetype of the Algerian settler. "A poor and naked man," he lives the life of an office worker, but is a child of nature at home in the sun and the sea, and a stranger to the sophistication of abstract codes and ideas. What happens in his firm or even to the closest members of his family barely touches him. "Mother died today," he says introducing himself with grotesque insouciance. "Or maybe yesterday." But it happened to him, without deeply willing it, to shoot an Arab. Dimly the sense of transgression is borne home: "I knew that I had shattered the equilibrium of the day, the spacious calm of this beach where I had been happy."
Every nation has its border peoples, cruder than the settled population of the interior, and therefore an object of fun and contempt, but tougher and more energetic, better at working and at
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