I. The Garden Round the Giant Trees.
MY first visit to Tartarin of Tarascon has remained a never-to-be-forgotten date in my life; although quite ten or a dozen years ago, I remember it better than yesterday.
At that time the intrepid Tartarin lived in the third house on the left as the town begins, on the Avignon road. A pretty little villa in the local style, with a front garden and a balcony behind, the walls glaringly white and the venetians very green; and always about the doorsteps a brood of little Savoyard shoe-blackguards playing hopscotch, or dozing in the broad sunshine with their heads pillowed on their boxes.
Outwardly the dwelling had no remarkable features, and none would ever believe it the abode of a hero; but when you stepped inside, ye gods and little fishes! what a change! From turret to foundation-stone — I mean, from cellar to garret — the whole building wore a heroic front; even so the garden!
O that garden of Tartarin’s! there’s not its match in Europe! Not a native tree was there — not one flower of France; nothing hut exotic plants, gum-trees, gourds, cotton-woods, cocoa and cacao, mangoes, bananas, palms, a baobab, nopals, cacti, Barbary figs — well, you would believe yourself in the very midst of Central Africa, ten thousand leagues away. It is but fair to say that these were none of full growth; indeed, the cocoa-palms were no bigger than beet root and the baobab (arbos gigantea —“giant tree,” you know) was easily enough circumscribed by a window-pot; but, notwithstanding this, it was rather a sensation for Tarascon, and the townsfolk who were admitted on Sundays to the honour of contemplating Tartarin’s baobab, went home chokeful of admiration.
Try to conceive my own emotion, which I was bound to feel on that day of days when I crossed through this marvellous garden, and that was capped when I was ushered into the hero’s sanctum.
His study, one of the lions — I should say, lions’ dens — of the town, was at the end of the garden, its glass door opening right on to the baobab.
You are to picture a capacious apartment adorned with firearms and steel blades from top to bottom: all the weapons of all the countries in the wide world — carbines, rifles, blunderbusses, Corsican, Catalan, and dagger knives, Malay kreeses, revolvers with spring-bayonets, Carib and flint arrows, knuckle-dusters, life-preservers, Hottentot clubs, Mexican lassoes — now, can you expect me to name the rest? Upon the whole fell a fierce sunlight, which made the blades and the brass butt-plate of the muskets gleam as if all the more to set your flesh creeping. Still, the beholder was soothed a little by the tame air of order and tidiness reigning over the arsenal. Everything was in place, brushed, dusted, labelled, as in a museum; from point to point the eye descried some obliging little card reading:
Do Not Touch!
Take care, please!
If it had not been for these cautions I never should have dared venture in.
In the middle of the room was an occasional table, on which stood a decanter of rum, a siphon of soda-water, a Turkish tobacco-pouch, “Captain Cook’s Voyages,” the Indian tales of Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard, stories of hunting the bear, eagle, elephant, and so on. Lastly, beside the table sat a man of between forty and forty-five, short, stout, thick-set, ruddy, with flaming eyes and a strong stubbly beard; he wore flannel tights, and was in his shirt sleeves; one hand held a book, and the other brandished a very large pipe with an iron bowl-cap. Whilst reading heaven only knows what startling adventure of scalp-hunters, he pouted out his lower lip in a terrifying way, which gave the honest phiz of the man living placidly on his means the same impression of kindly ferocity which abounded throughout the house.
This man was Tartarin himself — the Tartarin of Tarascon, the great, dreadnought, incomparable Tartarin of Tarascon.
II. A general glance bestowed upon the good town of Tarascon, and a particular one on “the cap-poppers.”
AT the time I am telling of, Tartarin of Tarascon had not become the present-day Tartarin, the great one so popular in the whole South of France: but yet he was even then the cock of the walk at Tarascon.
Let us show whence arose this sovereignty.
In the first place you must know that everybody is shooting mad in these parts, from the greatest to the least. The chase is the local craze, and so it has ever been since the mythological times when the Tarasque, as the county dragon was called, flourished himself and his tail in the town marshes, and entertained shooting parties got up against him. So you see the passion has lasted a goodish bit.
It follows that, every Sunday morning, Tarascon flies to arms, lets loose the dogs of the hunt, and rushes out of its walls, with game-bag slung and fowling-piece on the shoulder, together with a hurly-burly of hounds, cracking of whips, and blowing of whistles and hunting-horns. It’s splendid to see! Unfortunately, there’s a lack of game, an absolute dearth.
Stupid as the brute creation is, you can readily understand that, in time, it learnt some distrust.
For five leagues around about Tarascon, forms, lairs, and burrows are empty, and nesting-places abandoned. You’ll not find a single quail or blackbird, one little leveret, or the tiniest tit. And yet the pretty hillocks are mightily tempting, sweet smelling as they are of myrtle, lavender, and rosemary; and the fine muscatels plumped out with sweetness even unto bursting, as they spread along the banks of the Rhone, are deucedly tempting too. True, true; but Tarascon lies behind all this, and Tarascon is down in the black books of the world of fur and feather. The very birds of passage have ticked it off on their guide-books, and when the wild ducks, coming down towards the Camargue in long triangles, spy the town steeples from afar, the outermost flyers squawk out loudly:
“Look out! there’s Tarascon! give Tarascon the go-by, duckies!”
And the flocks take a swerve.
In short, as far as game goes, there’s not a specimen left in the land save one old rogue of a hare, escaped by miracle from the massacres, who is stubbornly determined to stick to it all his life! He is very well known at Tarascon, and a name has been given him. “Rapid” is what they call him. It is known that he has his form on M. Bompard’s grounds — which, by the way, has doubled, ay, tripled, the value of the property — but nobody has yet managed to lay him low. At present, only two or three inveterate fellows worry themselves about him. The rest have given him up as a bad job, and old Rapid has long ago passed into the legendary world, although your Tarasconer is very slightly superstitious naturally, and would eat cock-robins on toast, or the swallow, which is Our Lady’s own bird, for that matter, if he could find any.
“But that won’t do!” you will say. Inasmuch as game is so scarce, what can the sportsmen do every Sunday?
What can they do?
Why, goodness gracious! they go out into the real country two or three leagues from town. They gather in knots of five or six, recline tranquilly in the shade of some well, old wall, or olive tree, extract from their game-bags a good-sized piece of boiled beef, raw onions, a sausage, and anchovies, and commence a next to endless snack, washed down with one of those nice Rhone wines, which sets a toper laughing and singing. After that, when thoroughly braced up, they rise, whistle the dogs to heel, set the guns on half cock, and go “on the shoot”— another way of saying that every man plucks off his cap, “shies” it up with all his might, and pops it on the fly with No. 5, 6, or 2 shot, according to what he is loaded for.
The man who lodges most shot in his cap is hailed as king of the hunt, and stalks back triumphantly at dusk into Tarascon, with his riddled cap on the end of his gun-barrel, amid any quantity of dog-barks and horn-blasts.
It is needless to say that cap-selling is a fine business in the town. There are even some hatters who sell hunting-caps ready shot, torn, and perforated for the bad shots; but the only buyer known is the chemist Bezuquet. This is dishonourable!
As a marksman at caps, Tartarin of Tarascon never had his match.
Every Sunday morning out he would march in a new cap, and back he would strut every Sunday evening with a mere thing of shreds. The loft of Baobab Villa was full of these glorious trophies. Hence all Tarascon acknowledged him as master; and as Tartarin thoroughly understood hunting, and had read all the handbooks of all possible kinds of venery, from cap-popping to Burmese tiger-shooting, the sportsmen constituted him their great cynegetical judge, and took him for referee and arbitrator in all their differences.
Between three and four daily, at Costecalde the gunsmith’s, a stout stern pipe-smoker might be seen in a green leather-covered arm-chair in the centre of the shop crammed with cap-poppers, they all on foot and wrangling. This was Tartarin of Tarascon delivering judgement — Nimrod plus Solomon.
III. “Naw, naw, naw!” The general glance protracted upon the good town.
AFTER the craze for sporting, the lusty Tarascon race cherishes one love: ballad-singing. There’s no believing what a quantity of ballads is used up in that little region. All the sentimental stuff turning into sere and yellow leaves in the oldest portfolios, are to be found in full pristine lustre in Tarascon. Ay, the entire collection. Every family has its own pet, as is known to the town.
For instance, it is an established fact that this is the chemist Bezuquet’s family’s:
“Thou art the fair star that I adore!”
The gunmaker Costecalde’s family’s:
“Would’st thou come to the land Where the log-cabins rise?”
The official registrar’s family’s:
“If I wore a coat of invisible green, Do you think for a moment I could be seen?”
And so on for the whole of Tarascon. Two or three times a week there were parties where they were sung. The singularity was their being always the same, and that the honest Tarasconers had never had an inclination to change them during the long, long time they had been harping on them. They were handed down from father to son in the families, without anybody improving on them or bowdlerising them: they were sacred. Never did it occur to Costecalde’s mind to sing the Bezuquets’, or the Bezuquets to try Costecalde’s . And yet you may believe that they ought to know by heart what they had been singing for two-score years! But, nay! everybody stuck to his own,and they were all contented.
In ballad-singing, as in cap-popping, Tartarin was still the foremost. His superiority over his fellow-townsmen consisted in his not having any one song of his own, but in knowing the lot, the whole, mind you! But — there’s a but — it was the devil’s own work to get him to sing them.
Surfeited early in life with his drawing-room successes, our hero preferred by far burying himself in his hunting story-books, or spending the evening at the club, to making a personal exhibition before a Nimes piano between a pair of home-made candles. These musical parades seemed beneath him. Nevertheless, at whiles, when there was a harmonic party at Bezuquet’s, he would drop into the chemist’s shop, as if by chance, and, after a deal of pressure, consent to do the grand duo in Robert le Diable with old Madame Bezuquet. Whoso never heard that never heard anything! For my part, even if I lived a hundred years, I should always see the mighty Tartarin solemnly stepping up to the piano, setting his arms akimbo, working up his tragic mien, and, beneath the green reflection from the show-bottles in the window, trying to give his pleasant visage the fierce and satanic expression of Robert the Devil. Hardly would he fall into position before the whole audience would be shuddering with the foreboding that something uncommon was at hand. After a hush, old Madame Bezuquet would commence to her own accompaniment:
“Robert, my love is thine!
To thee I my faith did plight,
Thou seest my affright —
Mercy for thine own sake,
And mercy for mine!”
In an undertone she would add: “Now, then, Tartarin!” Whereupon Tartarin of Tarascon, with crooked arms, clenched fists, and quivering nostrils, would roar three times in a formidable voice, rolling like a thunderclap in the bowels of the instrument:
“No! no! no!” which, like the thorough southerner he was, he pronounced nasally as “Naw! naw! naw!” Then would old Madame Bezuquet again sing:
“Mercy for thine own sake,
And mercy for mine!”
“Naw! naw! naw!” bellowed Tartarin at his loudest, and there the gem ended.
Not long, you see; but it was so handsomely voiced forth, so clearly gesticulated, and so diabolical, that a tremor of terror overran the chemist’s shop, and the “Naw! naw! naw!” would be encored several times running.
Upon this Tartarin would sponge his brow, smile on the ladies, wink to the sterner sex, and withdraw upon his triumph to go remark at the club with a trifling, offhand air:
“I have just come from the Bezuquets’, where I was forced to sing ’em the duo from Robert le Diable.”
The cream of the joke was that he really believed it!
CHIEFLY to the account of these diverse talents did Tartarin owe his lofty position in the town of Tarascon. Talking of captivating, though, this deuce of a fellow knew how to ensnare everybody. Why, the army, at Tarascon, was for Tartarin. The brave commandant, Bravida, honorary captain retired — in the Military Clothing Factory Department — called him a game fellow; and you may well admit that the warrior knew all about game fellows, he played such a capital knife and fork on game of all kinds.
So was the legislature on Tartarin’s side. Two or three times, in open court, the old chief judge, Ladevese, had said, in alluding to him:
“He is a character!”
Lastly, the masses were for Tartarin. He had become the swell bruiser, the aristocratic pugilist, the crack bully of the local Corinthians for the Tarasconers, from his build, bearing, style — that aspect of a guard’s -trumpeter’s charger which fears no noise; his reputation as a hero coming from nobody knew whence or for what, and some scramblings for coppers and a few kicks to the little ragamuffins basking at his doorway.
Along the waterside, when Tartarin came home from hunting on Sunday evenings, with his cap on the muzzle of his gun, and his fustian shooting-jacket belted in tightly, the sturdy river-lightermen would respectfully bob, and blinking towards the huge biceps swelling out his arms, would mutter among one another in admiration:
“Now, there’s a powerful chap if you like! he has double-muscles!”
“Double muscles!” why, you never heard of such a thing outside of Tarascon!
For all this, with all his numberless parts, double-muscles, the popular favour, and the so precious esteem of brave Commandant Bravida, ex-captain (in the Army Clothing Factory), Tartarin was not happy: this life in a petty town weighed upon him and suffocated him.
The great man of Tarascon was bored in Tarascon.
The fact is, for a heroic temperament like his, a wild adventurous spirit which dreamt of nothing but battles, races across the pampas, mighty battues, desert sands, blizzards and typhoons, it was not enough to go out every Sunday to pop at a cap, and the rest of the time to ladle out casting-votes at the gunmaker’s . Poor dear great man! If this existence were only prolonged, there would be sufficient tedium in it to kill him with consumption.
In vain did he surround himself with baobabs and other African trees, to widen his horizon, and some little to forget his club and the market-place; in vain did he pile weapon upon weapon, and Malay kreese upon Malay kreese; in vain did he cram with romances, endeavouring like the immortal Don Quixote to wrench himself by the vigour of his fancy out of the talons of pitiless reality. Alas! all that he did to appease his thirst for deeds of daring only helped to augment it. The sight of all the murderous implements kept him in a perpetual stew of wrath and exaltation. His revolvers, repeating rifles, and ducking-guns shouted “Battle! battle!” out of their mouths. Through the twigs of his baobab, the tempest of great voyages and journeys soughed and blew bad advice. To finish him came Gustave Aimard, Mayne Reid, and Fenimore Cooper.
Oh, how many times did Tartarin with a howl spring up on the sultry summer afternoons, when he was reading alone amidst his blades, points, and edges; how many times did he dash down his book and rush to the wall to unhook a deadly arm! The poor man forgot he was at home in Tarascon, in his underclothes, and with a handkerchief round his head. He would translate his readings into action, and, goading himself with his own voice, shout out whilst swinging a battle-axe or tomahawk:
“Now, only let ’em come!”
“Them”? who were they?
Tartarin did not himself any too clearly understand. “They” was all that should be attacked and fought with, all that bites, claws, scalps, whoops, and yells — the Sioux Indians dancing around the war-stake to which the unfortunate pale-face prisoner is lashed. The grizzly of the Rocky Mountains, who wobbles on his hind legs, and licks himself with a tongue full of blood. The Touareg, too, in the desert, the Malay pirate, the brigand of the Abruzzi — in short, “they” was warfare, travel, adventure, and glory.
But, alas!! it was to no avail that the fearless Tarasconer called for and defied them; never did they come. Odsboddikins! what would they have come to do in Tarascon?
Nevertheless Tartarin always expected to run up against them, particularly some evening in going to the club.
V. How Tartarin went round to his club.
LITTLE, indeed, beside Tartarin of Tarascon, arming himself capa-pie to go to his club at nine, an hour after the retreat had sounded on the bugle, was the Templar Knight preparing for a sortie upon the infidel, the Chinese tiger equipping himself for combat, or the Comanche warrior painting up for going on the war-path. “All hands make ready for action!” as the men-of-war’s men say.
In his left hand Tartarin took a steel-pointed knuckle-duster; in the right he carried a sword-cane; in his left pocket a life-preserver; in the right a revolver. On his chest, betwixt outer and under garment, lay a Malay kreese. But never any poisoned arrows — they are weapons altogether too unfair.
Before starting, in the silence and obscurity of his study, he exercised himself for a while, warding off imaginary cuts and thrusts, lunging at the wall, and giving his muscles play; then he took his master-key and went through the garden leisurely; without hurrying, mark you. “Cool and calm — British courage, that is the true sort, gentlemen.” At the garden end he opened the heavy iron door, violently and abruptly so that it should slam against the outer wall. If “they” had been skulking behind it, you may wager they would have been jam. Unhappily, they were not there.
The way being open, out Tartarin would sally, quickly glancing to the right and left, ere banging the door to and fastening it smartly with double-locking. Then, on the way.
Not so much as a cat upon the Avignon road — all the doors closed, and no lights in the casements. All was black, except for the parish lamps, well spaced apart, blinking in the river mist.
Calm and proud, Tartarin of Tarascon marched on in the night, ringing his heels with regularity, and sending sparks out of the paving-stones with the ferule of his stick. Whether in avenues, streets, or lanes, he took care to keep in the middle of the road — an excellent method of precaution, allowing one to see danger coming, and, above all, to avoid any droppings from windows, as happens after dark in Tarascon and the Old Town of Edinburgh. On seeing so much prudence in Tartarin, pray do not conclude that Tartarin had any fear — dear, no! he only was on his guard.
The best proof that Tartarin was not scared is, that instead of going to the club by the shortest cut, he went over the town by the longest and darkest way round, through a mass of vile, paltry alleys, at the mouth of which the Rhone could be seen ominously gleaming. The poor knight constantly hoped that, beyond the turn of one of these cut-throats’ haunts, “they” would leap from the shadow and fall on his back. I warrant you, “they” would have been warmly received, though; but, alack! by reason of some nasty meanness of destiny, never indeed did Tartarin of Tarascon enjoy the luck to meet any ugly customers — not so much as a dog or a drunken man — nothing at all!
Still, there were false alarms somewhiles. He would catch a sound of steps and muffled voices.
“Ware hawks!” Tartarin would mutter, and stop short, as if taking root on the spot, scrutinising the gloom, sniffing the wind, even glueing his ear to the ground in the orthodox Red Indian mode. The steps would draw nearer, and the voices grow more distinct, till no more doubt was possible. “They” were coming — in fact, here “they” were!
Steady, with eye afire and heaving breast, Tartarin would gather himself like a jaguar in readiness to spring forward whilst uttering his war-cry, when, all of a sudden, out of the thick of the murkiness, he would hear honest Tarasconian voices quite tranquilly hailing him with:
“Hullo! you, by Jove! it’s Tartarin! Good night, old fellow!”
Maledictions upon it! It was the chemist Bezuquet, with his family, coming from singing their family ballad at Costecalde’s .
“Oh, good even, good even!” Tartarin would growl, furious at his blunder, and plunging fiercely into the gloom with his cane waved on high.
On arriving in the street where stood his club-house, the dauntless one would linger yet a moment, walking up and down before the portals ere entering. But, finally, weary of awaiting “them,” and certain “they” would not show “themselves,” he would fling a last glare of defiance into the shades and snarl wrathfully:
“Nothing, nothing at all! there never is nothing!”
Upon which double negation, which he meant as a stronger affirmative, the worthy champion would walk in to play his game of bezique with the commandant.
VI. The two Tartarins.
ANSWER me, you will say, how the mischief is it that Tartarin of Tarascon never left Tarascon with all this mania for adventure, need of powerful sensations, and folly about travel, rides, and journeys from the Pole to the Equator?
For that is a fact: up to the age of five-and-forty, the dreadless Tarasconian had never once slept outside his own room. He had not even taken that obligatory trip to Marseilles which every sound Provencal makes upon coming of age. The most of his knowledge included Beaucaire, and yet that’s not far from Tarascon, there being merely the bridge to go over. Unfortunately, this rascally bridge has so often been blown away by the gales, it is so long and frail, and the Rhone has such a width at this spot that — well, faith! you understand! Tartarin of Tarascon preferred terra firma.
We are afraid we must make a clean breast of it: in our hero there were two very distinct characters. Some Father of the Church has said: “I feel there are two men in me.” He would have spoken truly in saying this about Tartarin, who carried in his frame the soul of Don Quixote, the same chivalric impulses, heroic ideal, and crankiness for the grandiose and romantic; but, worse is the luck! he had not the body of the celebrated hidalgo, that thin and meagre apology for a body, on which material life failed to take a hold; one that could get through twenty nights without its breast-plate being unbuckled off, and forty-eight hours on a handful of rice. On the contrary, Tartarin’s body was a stout honest bully of a body, very fat, very weighty, most sensual and fond of coddling, highly touchy, full of low-class appetite and homely requirements — the short, paunchy body on stumps of the immortal Sancho Panza.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the one same man! you will readily comprehend what a cat-and-dog couple they made! what strife! what clapper-clawing! Oh, the fine dialogue for Lucian or Saint-Evremond to write, between the two Tartarins — Quixote-Tartarin and Sancho-Tartarin! Quixote-Tartarin firing up on the stories of Gustave Aimard, and shouting: “Up and at ’em!” and Sancho-Tartarin thinking only of the rheumatics ahead, and murmuring: “I mean to stay at home.”
Cover yourself with glory, Tartarin.
Tartarin, cover yourself with flannel.
|(Still more excitedly.)
O for the terrible double- barrelled rifle! O for bowie-knives, lassoes, and moccasins!
|(Still more calmly.)
O for the thick knitted waistcoats! and warm knee-caps! O for the welcome padded caps with ear-flaps!
|(Above all self-control.)
A battle-axe! fetch me a battle-axe!
|(Ringing up the maid.)
Now, then, Jeannette, do bring up that chocolate!
Whereupon Jeannette would appear with an unusually good cup of chocolate, just right in warmth, sweetly smelling, and with the play of light on watered silk upon its unctuous surface, and with succulent grilled steak flavoured with anise-seed, which would set Sancho-Tartarin off on the broad grin, and into a laugh that drowned the shouts of Quixote-Tartarin.
Thus it came about that Tartarin of Tarascon never had left Tarascon.
VII. Tartarin — The Europeans at Shanghai — Commerce — The Tartars — Can Tartarin of Tarascon be an Impostor? — The Mirage.
UNDER one conjunction of circumstances, Tartarin did, however, once almost start out upon a great voyage.
The three brothers Garcio-Camus, relatives of Tarascon, established in business at Shanghai, offered him the managership of one of their branches there. This undoubtedly presented the kind of life he hankered after. Plenty of active business, a whole army of under-strappers to order about, and connections with Russia, Persia, Turkey in Asia — in short, to be a merchant prince!
In Tartarin’s mouth, the title of Merchant Prince thundered out as something stunning!
The house of Garcio-Camus had the further advantage of sometimes being favoured with a call from the Tartars. Then the doors would be slammed shut, all the clerks flew to arms, up ran the consular flag, and zizz! phit! bang! out of the windows upon the Tartars.
I need not tell you with what enthusiasm Quixote-Tartarin clutched this proposition; sad to say, Sancho-Tartarin did not see it in the same light, and, as he was the stronger party, it never came to anything. But in the town there was much talk about it. Would he go or would he not? “I’ll lay he will!"— and “I’ll wager he won’t!” It was the event of the week. In the upshot, Tartarin did not depart, but the matter redounded to his credit none the less. Going or not going to Shanghai was all one to Tarascon. Tartarin’s journey was so much talked about that people got to believe he had done it and returned, and at the club in the evening members would actually ask for information on life at Shanghai, the manners and customs and climate, about opium, and commerce.
Deeply read up, Tartarin would graciously furnish the particulars desired, and, in the end, the good fellow was not quite sure himself about not having gone to Shanghai, so that, after relating for the hundredth time how the Tartars came down on the trading post, it would most naturally happen him to add:
“Then I made my men take up arms and hoist the consular flag, and zizz! phit! bang! out of the windows upon the Tartars.”
On hearing this, the whole club would quiver.
“But according to that, this Tartarin of yours is an awful liar.”
“No, no, a thousand times over, no! Tartarin was no liar.”
“But the man ought to know that he has never been to Shanghai”—
“Why, of course, he knows that; but still”—
“But still,” you see — mark that! It is high time for the law to be laid down once for all on the reputation as drawers of the long bow which Northerners fling at Southerners. There are no Baron Munchausens in the south of France, neither at Nimes nor Marseilles, Toulouse nor Tarascon. The Southerner does not deceive but is self-deceived. He does not always tell the cold-drawn truth, but he believes he does. His falsehood is not any such thing, but a kind of mental mirage.
Yes, purely mirage! The better to follow me, you should actually follow me into the South, and you will see I am right. You have only to look at that Lucifer’s own country, where the sun transmogrifies everything, and magnifies it beyond life-size. The little hills of Provence are no bigger than the Butte Montmartre, but they will loom up like the Rocky Mountains; the Square House at Nimes — a mere model to put on your sideboard — will seem grander than St. Peter’s . You will see — in brief, the only exaggerator in the South is Old Sol, for he does enlarge everything he touches. What was Sparta in its days of splendour? a pitiful hamlet. What was Athens? at the most, a second-class town; and yet in history both appear to us as enormous cities. This is a sample of what the sun can do.
Are you going to be astonished after this that the same sun falling upon Tarascon should have made of an ex-captain in the Army Clothing Factory, like Bravida, the “brave commandant;” of a sprout an Indian fig-tree; and of a man who had missed going to Shanghai one who had been there?
VIII. Mitaine’s Menagerie — A Lion from the Atlas at Tarascon — A Solemn and Fearsome Confrontation.
EXHIBITING Tartarin of Tarascon, as we are, in his private life, before Fame kissed his brow and garlanded him with her well-worn laurel wreath, and having narrated his heroic existence in a modest state, his delights and sorrows, his dreams and his hopes, let us hurriedly skip to the grandest pages of his story, and to the singular event which was to give the first flight to his incomparable career.
It happened one evening at Costecalde the gunmaker’s, where Tartarin was engaged in showing several sportsmen the working of the needle-gun, then in its first novelty. The door suddenly flew open, and in rushed a bewildered cap-popper, howling “A lion, a lion!” General was the alarm, stupor, uproar and tumult. Tartarin prepared to resist cavalry with the bayonet, whilst Costecalde ran to shut the door. The sportsman was surrounded and pressed and questioned, and here follows what he told them: Mitaine’s Menagerie, returning from Beaucaire Fair, had consented to stay over a few days at Tarascon, and was just unpacking, to set up the show on the Castle-green, with a lot of boas, seals, crocodiles, and a magnificent lion from the Atlas Mountains.
An African lion in Tarascon?
Never in the memory of living man had the like been seen. Hence our dauntless cap-poppers looked at one another how proudly! What a beaming on their sunburned visages! and in every nook of Costecalde’s shop what hearty congratulatory grips of the hand were silently exchanged! The sensation was so great and unforeseen that nobody could find a word to say — not even Tartarin.
Blanched and agitated, with the needle-gun still in his fist, he brooded, erect before the counter. A lion from the Atlas Range at pistol range from him, a couple of strides off? a lion, mind you — the beast heroic and ferocious above all others, the King of the Brute Creation, the crowning game of his fancies, something like the leading actor in the ideal company which played such splendid tragedies in his mind’s eye. A lion, heaven be thanked! and from the Atlas, to boot! It was more than the great Tartarin could bear.
Suddenly a flush of blood flew into his face. His eyes flashed. With one convulsive movement he shouldered the needle-gun, and turning towards the brave Commandant Bravida (formerly captain in the Army Clothing Department, please to remember), he thundered to him —
“Let’s go have a look at him, commandant.”
“Here, here, I say! that’s my gun — my needle-gun you are carrying off,” timidly ventured the wary Costecalde; but Tartarin had already got round the corner, with all the cap-poppers proudly lock-stepping behind him.
When they arrived at the menagerie, they found a goodly number of people there. Tarascon, heroic but too long deprived of sensational shows, had rushed upon Mitaine’s portable theatre, and had taken it by storm. Hence the voluminous Madame Mitaine was highly contented. In an Arab costume, her arms bare to the elbow, iron anklets on, a whip in one hand and a plucked though live pullet in the other, the noted lady was doing the honours of the booth to the Tarasconians; and, as she also had “double muscles,” her success was almost as great as her animals.
The entrance of Tartarin with the gun on his shoulder was a damper.
All our good Tarasconians, who had been quite tranquilly strolling before the cages, unarmed and with no distrust, without even any idea of danger, felt momentary apprehension, naturally enough, on beholding their mighty Tartarin rush into the enclosure with his formidable engine of war. There must be something to fear when a hero like he was, came weaponed; so, in a twinkling, all the space along the cage fronts was cleared. The youngsters burst out squalling for fear, and the women looked round for the nearest way out. The chemist Bezuquet made off altogether, alleging that he was going home for his gun.
Gradually, however, Tartarin’s bearing restored courage. With head erect, the intrepid Tarasconian slowly and calmly made the circuit of the booth, passing the seal’s tank without stopping, glancing disdainfully on the long box filled with sawdust in which the boa would digest its raw fowl, and going to take his stand before the lion’s cage.
A terrible and solemn confrontation, this! The lion of Tarascon and the lion of Africa face to face!
On the one part, Tartarin erect, with his hamstrings in tension, and his arms folded on his gun barrel; on the other, the lion, a gigantic specimen, humped up in the straw, with blinking orbs and brutish mien, resting his huge muzzle and tawny full-bottomed wig on his forepaws. Both calm in their gaze.
Singular thing! whether the needle-gun had given him “the needle,” if the popular idiom is admissible, or that he scented an enemy of his race, the lion, who had hitherto regarded the Tarasconians with sovereign scorn, and yawned in their faces, was all at once affected by ire. At first he sniffed; then he growled hollowly, stretching out his claws; rising, he tossed his head, shook his mane, opened a capacious maw, and belched a deafening roar at Tartarin.
A yell of fright responded, as Tarascon precipitated itself madly towards the exit, women and children, lightermen, cap-poppers, even the brave Commandant Bravida himself. But, alone, Tartarin of Tarascon had not budged. There he stood, firm and resolute, before the cage, lightnings in his eyes, and on his lip that gruesome grin with which all the town was familiar. In a moment’s time, when all the cap-poppers, some little fortified by his bearing and the strength of the bars, re-approached their leader, they heard him mutter, as he stared Leo out of countenance:
“Now, this is something like a hunt!”
All the rest of that day, never a word farther could they draw from Tartarin of Tarascon.
IX. Singular effects of Mental Mirage.
CONFINING his remarks to the sentence last recorded, Tartarin had unfortunately still said overmuch.
On the morrow, there was nothing talked about through town but the near-at-hand departure of Tartarin for Algeria and lion-hunting. You are all witness, dear readers, that the honest fellow had not breathed a word on that head; but, you know, the mirage had its usual effect. In brief, all Tarascon spoke of nothing but the departure.
On the Old Walk, at the club, in Costecalde’s, friends accosted one another with a startled aspect:
“And furthermore, you know the news, at least?”
“And furthermore, rather? Tartarin’s setting out, at least?”
For at Tarascon all phrases begin with “and furthermore,” and conclude with “at least,” with a strong local accent. Hence, on this occasion more than upon others, these peculiarities rang out till the windows shivered.
The most surprised of men in the town on hearing that Tartarin was going away to Africa, was Tartarin himself. But only see what vanity is! Instead of plumply answering that he was not going at all, and had not even had the intention, poor Tartarin, on the first of them mentioning the journey to him, observed with a neat little evasive air, “Aha! maybe I shall — but I do not say as much.” The second time; a trifle more familiarised with the idea, he replied, “Very likely;” and the third time, “It’s certain.”
Finally, in the evening, at Costecalde’s and the club, carried away by the egg-nogg, cheers, and illumination; intoxicated by the impression that bare announcement of his departure had made on the town, the hapless fellow formally declared that he was sick of banging away at caps, and that he would shortly be on the trail of the great lions of the Atlas. A deafening hurrah greeted this assertion. Whereupon more egg-nogg, bravoes, handshaking, slappings of the shoulder, and a torchlight serenade up to midnight before Baobab Villa.
It was Sancho-Tartarin who was anything but delighted. This idea of travel in Africa and lion-hunting made him shudder beforehand; and when the house was re-entered, and whilst the complimentary concert was sounding under the windows, he had a dreadful “row” with Quixote-Tartarin, calling him a cracked head, a visionary, imprudent, and thrice an idiot, and detailing by the card all the catastrophes awaiting him on such an expedition — shipwreck, rheumatism, yellow fever, dysentery, the black plague, elephantiasis, and the rest of them.
In vain did Quixote-Tartarin vow that he had not committed any imprudence — that he would wrap himself up well, and take even superfluous necessaries with him. Sancho-Tartarin would listen to nothing. The poor craven saw himself already torn to tatters by the lions, or engulfed in the desert sands like his late royal highness Cambyses, and the other Tartarin only managed to appease him a little by explaining that the start was not immediate, as nothing pressed.
It is clear enough, indeed, that none embark on such an enterprise without some preparations. A man is bound to know whither he goes, hang it all! and not fly off like a bird. Before anything else, the Tarasconian wanted to peruse the accounts of great African tourists, the narrations of Mungo Park, Du Chaillu, Dr. Livingstone, Stanley, and so on.
In them, he learnt that these daring explorers, before donning their sandals for distant excursions, hardened themselves well beforehand to support hunger and thirst, forced marches, and all kinds of privation. Tartarin meant to act like they did, and from that day forward he lived upon water broth alone. The water broth of Tarascon is a few slices of bread drowned in hot water, with a clove of garlic, a pinch of thyme, and a sprig of laurel. Strict diet, at which you may believe poor Sancho made a wry face.
To the regimen of water broth Tartarin of Tarascon joined other wise practices. To break himself into the habit of long marches, he constrained himself to go round the town seven or eight times consecutively every morning, either at the fast walk or run, his elbows well set against his body, and a couple of white pebbles in the mouth, according to the antique usage.
To get inured to fog, dew, and night coolness, he would go down into his garden every dusk, and stop out there till ten or eleven, alone with his gun, on the lookout, behind the baobab.
Finally, so long as Mitaine’s wild beast show tarried in Tarascon, the cap-poppers who were belated at Costecalde’s might spy in the shadow of the booth, as they crossed the Castle-green, a mysterious figure stalking up and down. It was Tartarin of Tarascon, habituating himself to hear without emotion the roarings of the lion in the sombre night.
X. Before the Start.
PENDING Tartarin’s delay of the event by all sorts of heroic means, all Tarascon kept an eye upon him, and nothing else was busied about. Cap-popping was winged, and ballad-singing dead. The piano in Bezuquet’s shop mouldered away under a green fungus, and the Spanish flies dried upon it, belly up. Tartarin’s expedition had a put a stopper on everything.
Ah, you ought to have seen his success in the parlours. He was snatched away by one from another, fought for, loaned and borrowed, ay, stolen. There was no greater honour for the ladies than to go to Mitaine’s Menagerie on Tartarin’s arms, and have it explained before the lion’s den how such large game are hunted, where they should be aimed at, at how many paces off; if the accidents were numerous, and the like of that.
Tartarin furnished all the elucidation desired. He had read “The Life of Jules Gerard, the Lion-Slayer,” and had lion-hunting at his finger ends, as if he had been through it himself. Hence he orated upon these matters with great eloquence.
But where he shone the brightest was at dinner at Chief Judge Ladeveze’s, or brave Commandant Bravida’s (the former captain in the Army Clothing Factory, you will keep in mind), when coffee came in, and all the chairs were brought up closer together, whilst they chatted of his future hunts.
Thereupon, his elbow on the cloth, his nose over his Mocha, our hero would discourse in a feeling tone of all the dangers awaiting him thereaway. He spoke of the long moonless night lyings-in-wait, the pestilential fens, the rivers envenomed by leaves of poison-plants, the deep snow-drifts, the scorching suns, the scorpions, and rains of grasshoppers; he also descanted on the peculiarities of the great lions of the Atlas, their way of fighting, their phenomenal vigour; and their ferocity in the mating season.
Heating with his own recital, he would rise from table, bounding to the middle of the dining-room, imitating the roar of a lion and the going off of a rifle crack! bang! the zizz of the explosive bullet — gesticulating and roaring about till he had overset the chairs.
Everybody turned pale around the board: the gentlemen looking at one another and wagging their heads, the ladies shutting their eyes with pretty screams of fright, the elderly men combatively brandishing their canes; and, in the side apartments, the little boys, who had been put to bed betimes, were greatly startled by the sudden outcries and imitated gun-fire, and screamed for lights. Meanwhile, Tartarin did not start.
XI. “Let’s have it out with swords gentleman, not pins!”
A DELICATE question: whether Tartarin really had any intention of going, and one which the historian of Tartarin would be highly embarrassed to answer. In plain words, Mitaine’s Menagerie had left Tarascon over three months, and still the lion-slayer had not started. After all, blinded by a new mirage, our candid hero may have imagined in perfectly good faith that he had gone to Algeria. On the strength of having related his future hunts, he may have believed he had performed them as sincerely as he fancied he had hoisted the consular flag and fired on the Tartars, zizz, phit, bang! at Shanghai.
Unfortunately, granting Tartarin was this time again dupe of an illusion, his fellow-townsfolk were not. When, after the quarter’s expectation, they perceived that the hunter had not packed even a collar-box, they commenced murmuring.
“This is going to turn out like the Shanghai expedition,” remarked Costecalde, smiling.
The gunsmith’s comment was welcomed all over town, for nobody believed any longer in their late idol. The simpletons and poltroons — all the fellows of Bezuquet’s stamp, whom a flea would put to flight, and who could not fire a shot without closing their eyes — were conspicuously pitiless. In the club-rooms or on the esplanade, they accosted poor Tartarin with bantering mien:
“And furthermore, when is that trip coming off?”
In Costecalde’s shop, his opinions gained no credence, for the cap-poppers renounced their chief!
Next, epigrams dropped into the affair. Chief Judge Ladevese, who willingly paid court in his leisure hours to the native Muse, composed in local dialect a song which won much success. It told of a sportsman called “Master Gervais,” whose dreaded rifle was bound to exterminate all the lions in Africa to the very last. Unluckily, this terrible gun was of a strange kind: “though loaded daily, it never went off.”
“It never went off”— you will catch the drift.
In less than no time, this ditty became popular; and when Tartarin came by, the longshoremen and the little shoeblacks before his door sang in chorus —
“Muster Jarvey’s roifle
Allus gittin’ chaarged;
Muster Jarvey’s roifle
‘il hev to git enlaarged;
Muster Jarvey’s roifle’s
Loaded oft — don’t scoff;
Muster Jarvey’s roifle
Nivver do go off!”
But it was shouted out from a safe distance, on account of the double muscles.
Oh, the fragility of Tarascon’s fads!
The great object himself feigned to see and hear nothing; but, under the surface, this sullen and venomous petty warfare much afflicted him. He felt aware that Tarascon was slipping out of his grip, and that popular favour was going to others; and this made him suffer horribly.
Ah, the huge bowl of popularity! it’s all very well to have a seat in front of it, but what a scalding you catch when it is overturned!
Notwithstanding his pain, Tartarin smiled and peacefully jogged on in the same life as if nothing untoward had happened. Still, the mask of jovial heedlessness glued by pride on his face would sometimes be suddenly detached. Then, in lieu of laughter, one saw grief and indignation. Thus it was that one morning, when the little blackguards yelped “Muster Jarvey’s Roifle” beneath his window, the wretches’ voices rose even into the poor great man’s room, where he was shaving before the glass. (Tartarin wore a full beard, but as it grew very thick, he was obliged to keep it trimmed orderly.)
All at once the window was violently opened, and Tartarin appeared in shirt-sleeves and nightcap, smothered in lather, flourishing his razor and shaving-brush, and roaring with a formidable voice:
“Let’s have it out with swords, gentlemen, not pins!”
Fine words, worthy of history’s record, with only the blemish that they were addressed to little scamps not higher than their boot-boxes, and who were quite incapable of holding a smallsword.
XII. A memorable Dialogue in the little Baobab Villa.
AMID the general falling off, the army alone stuck out firmly for Tartarin. Brave Commandant Bravida (the former captain in the Army Clothing Department) continued to show him the same esteem as ever. “He’s game!” he persisted in saying — an assertion, I beg to believe, fully worth the chemist Bezuquet’s . Not once did the brave officer let out any allusion to the trip to Africa; but when the public clamour grew too loud, he determined to have his say.
One evening the luckless Tartarin was in his study, in a brown study himself, when he saw the commandant stride in, stern, wearing black gloves, buttoned up to his ears.
“Tartarin,” said the ex-captain authoritatively, “Tartarin, you’ll have to go!”
And there he dwelt, erect in the doorway frame, grand and rigid as embodied Duty. Tartarin of Tarascon comprehended all the sense in “Tartarin, you’ll have to ago!”
Very pale, he rose and looked around with a softened eye upon the cosy snuggery, tightly closed in, full of warmth and tender light — upon the commodious easy chair, his books, the carpet, the white blinds of the windows, beyond which trembled the slender twigs of the little garden. Then, advancing towards the brave officer, he took his hand, grasped it energetically, and said in a voice somewhat tearful, but stoical for all that:
“I am going, Bravida.”
And go he did, as he said he would. Not straight off though, for it takes time to get the paraphernalia together.
To begin with, he ordered of Bompard two large boxes bound with brass, and an inscription to be on them:
TARTARIN, OF TARASCON
The binding in brass and the lettering took much time. He also ordered at Tastavin’s a showy album, in which to keep a diary and his impressions of travel; for a man cannot help having an idea or two strike him even when he is busy lion-hunting.
Next, he had over from Marseilles a downright cargo of tinned eatables, pemmican compressed in cakes for making soup, a new pattern shelter-tent, opening out and packing up in a minute, sea-boots, a couple of umbrellas, a waterproof coat, and blue spectacles to ward off ophthalmia. To conclude, Bezuquet the chemist made him up a miniature portable medicine chest stuffed with diachylon plaister, arnica, camphor, and medicated vinegar.
Poor Tartarin! he did not take these safeguards on his own behalf; but he hoped, by dint of precaution and delicate attentions, to allay Sancho-Tartarin’s fury, who, since the start was fixed, never left off raging day or night.
XIII. The Departure.
EFTSOON arrived the great and solemn day. From dawn all Tarascon had been on foot, encumbering the Avignon road and the approaches to Baobab Villa. People were up at the windows, on the roofs, and in the trees; the Rhone bargees, porters, dredgers, shoeblacks, gentry, tradesfolk, warpers and weavers, taffety-workers, the club members, in short the whole town; moreover, people from Beaucaire had come over the bridge, market-gardeners from the environs, carters in their huge carts with ample tilts, vinedressers upon handsome mules, tricked out with ribbons, streamers, bells, rosettes, and jingles, and even, here and there, a few pretty maids from Arles, come on the pillion behind their sweethearts, with bonny blue ribbons round the head, upon little iron-grey Camargue horses.
All this swarm squeezed and jostled before our good Tartarin’s door, who was going to slaughter lions in the land of the Turks.
For Tarascon, Algeria, Africa, Greece, Persia, Turkey, and Mesopotamia, all form one great hazy country, almost a myth, called the land of the Turks. They say “Tur’s,” but that’s a linguistic digression.
In the midst of all this throng, the cap-poppers bustled to and fro, proud of their captain’s triumph, leaving glorious wakes where they had passed.
In front of the Indian fig-tree house were two large trucks. From time to time the door would open, and allow several persons to be spied, gravely lounging about the little garden. At every new box the throng started and trembled. The articles were named in a loud voice:
“That there’s the shelter-tent; these the potted meats; that’s the physic-chest; these the gun-cases,"— the cap-poppers giving explanations.
All of a sudden, about ten o’clock, there was a great stir in the multitude, for the garden gate banged open.
“Here he is! here he is!” they shouted.
It was he indeed. When he appeared upon the threshold, two outcries of stupefaction burst from the assemblage:
“He’s a Turk!” “He’s got on spectacles!”
In truth, Tartarin of Tarascon had deemed it his duty, on going to Algeria, to don the Algerian costume. Full white linen trousers, small tight vest with metal buttons, a red sash two feet wide around the waist, the neck bare and the forehead shaven, and a vast red fez, or chechia, on his head, with something like a long blue tassel thereto. Together with this, two heavy guns, one on each shoulder, a broad hunting-knife in the girdle, a bandolier across the breast, a revolver on the hip, swinging in its patent leather case — that is all. No, I cry your pardon, I was forgetting the spectacles — a pantomimically large pair of azure barnacles, which came in partly to temper what was rather too fierce in the bearing of our hero.
“Long life to Tartarin! hip, hip, hurrah for Tartarin!” roared the populace.
The great man smiled, but did not salute, on account of the firearms hindering him. Moreover, he knew now on what popular favour depends; it may even be that in the depths of his soul he cursed his terrible fellow-townsfolk, who obliged him to go away and leave his pretty little pleasure-house with whitened walls and green venetians. But there was no show of this.
Calm and proud, although a little pallid, he stepped out on the footway, glanced at the hand-carts, and, seeing all was right, lustily took the road to the railway-station, without even once looking back towards Baobab Villa. Behind him marched the brave Commandant Bravida, Ladevese the Chief Judge, Costecalde the gunsmith next, and then all the sportsmen who pop at caps, preceding the hand-carts and the rag, tag, and bobtail.
Before the station the station-master awaited them, an old African veteran of 1830, who shook Tartarin’s hand many times with fervency.
The Paris-to-Marseilles express was not yet in, so Tartarin and his staff went into the waiting-rooms. To prevent the place being overrun, the station-master ordered the gates to be closed.
During a quarter of an hour, Tartarin promenaded up and down in the rooms in the midst of his brother marksmen, speaking to them of his journey and his hunting, and promising to send them skins; they put their names down in his memorandum-book for a lionskin apiece, as waltzers book for a dance.
Gentle and placid as Socrates on the point of quaffing the hemlock, the intrepid Tarasconian had a word and a smile for each. He spoke simply, with an affable mien; it looked as if, before departing, he meant to leave behind him a wake of charms, regrets, and pleasant memories. On hearing their leader speak in this way, all the sportsmen felt tears well up, and some were stung with remorse, to wit, Chief Judge Ladevese and the chemist Bezuquet. The railway employees blubbered in the corners, whilst the outer public squinted through the bars and bellowed: “Long live Tartarin!”
At length the bell rang. A dull rumble was heard, and a piercing whistle shook the vault.
“The Marseilles express, gen’lemen!”
“Good-bye, Tartarin! Good luck, old fellow!”
“Good-bye to you all!” murmured the great man, as, with his arms around the brave Commandant Bravida, he embraced his dear native place collectively in him. Then he leaped out upon the platform, and clambered into a carriage full of Parisian ladies, who were ready to die with fright at sight of this stranger with so many pistols and rifles.
XIV. The Port of Marseilles —“All aboard, all aboard!”
UPON the 1st of December 18 — in clear, brilliant, splendid weather, under a south winter sun, the startled inhabitants of Marseilles beheld a Turk come down the Canebiere, or their Regent Street. A Turk, a regular Turk — never had such a one been seen; and yet, Heaven knows, there is no lack of Turks at Marseilles.
The Turk in question — have I any necessity of telling you it was the great Tartarin of Tarascon? — waddled along the quays, followed by his gun-cases, medicine-chest, and tinned comestibles, to reach the landing-stage of the Touache Company and the mail steamer the Zouave, which was to transport him over the sea.
With his ears still ringing with the home applause, intoxicated by the glare of the heavens and the reek of the sea, Tartarin fairly beamed as he stepped out with a lofty head, and between his guns on his shoulders, looking with all his eyes upon that wondrous, dazzling harbour of Marseilles, which he saw for the first time. The poor fellow believed he was dreaming. He fancied his name was Sinbad the Sailor, and that he was roaming in one of those fantastic cities abundant in the “Arabian Nights.” As far as eye could reach there spread a forest of masts and spars, cris-crossing in every way.
Flags of all countries floated — English, American, Russian, Swedish, Greek and Tunisian.
The vessels lay alongside the wharves — ay, head on, so that their bowsprits stuck up out over the strand like rows of bayonets. Over it, too, sprawled the mermaids, goddesses, madonnas, and other figure-heads in carved and painted wood which gave names to the ships — all worn by sea-water, split, mildewed, and dripping. Ever and anon, between the hulls, a patch of harbour like watered silk splashed with oil. In the intervals of the yards and booms, what seemed swarms of flies prettily spotted the blue sky. These were the shipboys, hailing one another in all languages.
On the waterside, amidst thick green or black rivulets coming down from the soap factories loaded with oil and soda, bustled a mass of custom-house officers, messengers, porters, and truckmen with their bogheys, or trolleys, drawn by Corsican ponies.
There were shops selling quaint articles, smoky shanties where sailors were cooking their own queer messes, dealers in pipes, monkeys, parrots, ropes, sailcloth, fanciful curios, amongst which were mingled higgledy-piggledy old culverins, huge gilded lanterns, worn-out pulley-blocks, rusty flukeless anchors, chafed cordage, battered speaking-trumpets, and marine glasses almost contemporary with the Ark. Sellers of mussels and clams squatted beside their heaps of shellfish and yawped their goods. Seamen rolled by with tar-pots, smoking soup-bowls, and big baskets full of cuttlefish, from which they went to wash the ink in the milky waters of the fountains.
Everywhere a prodigious collection of all kinds of goods: silks, minerals, wood in stacks, lead in pigs, cloths, sugars, caruba wood logs, colza seed, liquorice sticks, sugar-canes. The East and the West cheek by jowl, even to pyramids of Dutch cheeses which the Genoese were dyeing red by contact with their hands.
Yonder was the corn market: porters discharging sacks down the shoots of lofty elevators upon the pier, and loose grain rolling as a golden torrent through a blonde dust. Men in red skullcaps were sifting it as they caught it in large asses’-skin sieves, and loading it upon carts which took their millward way, followed by a regiment of women and youngsters with wisps and gleaning baskets. Farther on, the dry docks, where large vessels were laid low on their sides till their yards dipped in the water; they were singed with thorn-bushes to free them of sea weed; there rose an odour of pitch, and the deafening clatter of the sheathers coppering the bottoms with broad sheets of yellow metal.
At whiles a gap in between the masts, in which Tartarin could see the haven mouth, where the vessels came and went: a British frigate off for Malta, dainty and thoroughly washed down, with the officer in primrose gloves, or a large home-port brig hauling out in the midst of uproar and oaths, whilst the fat captain, in a high silk hat and frockcoat, ordered the operations in Provencal dialect. Other craft were making forth under all sail, and, still farther out, more were slowly looming up in the sunshine as if they were sailing in the air.
All the time a frightful riot, the rumbling of carts, the “Haul all, haul away!” of the shipmen, oaths, songs, steamboat whistles, the bugles and drums in Forts Saint Jean and Saint Nicolas, the bells of the Major, the Accoules, and Saint Victor; with the mistral atop of all, catching up the noises and clamour, and rolling them up together with a furious shaking, till confounded with its own voice, which intoned a mad, wild, heroic melody like a grand charging tune — one that filled hearers with a longing to be off, and the farther the better — a craving for wings.
It was to the sound of this splendid blast that the intrepid Tartarin Tarasco of Tarascon embarked for the land of lions.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49