I. The Passage — The Five Positions of the Fez — The Third Evening Out — Mercy upon us!
JOYFUL would I be, my dear readers, if I were a painter — a great artist, I mean — in order to set under your eyes, at the head of this second episode, the various positions taken by Tartarin’s red cap in the three days’ passage it made on board of the Zouave, between France and Algeria.
First would I show you it at the steaming out, upon deck, arrogant and heroic as it was, forming a glory round that handsome Tarasconian head. Next would I show you it at the harbour-mouth, when the bark began to caper upon the waves; I would depict it for you all of a quake in astonishment, and as though already experiencing the preliminary qualms of sea-sickness. Then, in the Gulf of the Lion, proportionably to the nearing the open sea, where the white caps heaved harder, I would make you behold it wrestling with the tempest, and standing on end upon the hero’s cranium, with its mighty mane of blue wool bristling out in the spray and breeze. Position Fourth: at six in the afternoon, with the Corsican coast in view; the unfortunate chechia hangs over the ship’s side, and lamentably stares down as though to plumb the depths of ocean. Finally and lastly, the Fifth Position: at the back of a narrow state-room, in a box-bed so small it seemed one drawer in a nest of them, something shapeless rolled on the pillow with moans of desolation. This was the fez — the fez so defiant at the sailing, now reduced to the vulgar condition of a nightcap, and pulled down over the very ears of the head of a pallid and convulsed sufferer.
How the people of Tarascon would have kicked themselves for having constrained the great Tartarin to leave home, if they had but seen him stretched in the bunk in the dull, wan gleam through the dead-light, amid the sickly odour of cooking and wet wood — the heart-heaving perfume of mail-boats; if they had but heard him gurgle at every turn of the screw, wail for tea every five minutes, and swear at the steward in a childish treble!
On my word of honour as a story-teller, the poor Turk would have made a paste-board dummy pity him. Suddenly, overcome by the nausea, the hapless victim had not even the power to undo the Algerian girdle-cloth, or lay aside his armoury; the lumpy-handled hunting-sword pounded his ribs, and the leather revolver-case made his thigh raw. To finish him arose the taunts of Sancho-Tartarin, who never ceased to groan and inveigh:
“Well, for the biggest kind of imbecile, you are the finest specimen! I told you truly how it would be. Ha, ha! you were bound to go to Africa, of course! Well, old merriman, now you are going to Africa, how do you like it?”
The cruellest part of it was that, from the retreat where he was moaning, the hapless invalid could hear the passengers in the grand saloon laughing, munching, singing, and playing at cards. On board the Zouave the company was as jolly as numerous, composed of officers going back to join their regiments, ladies from the Marseilles Alcazar Music Hall, strolling-players, a rich Mussulman returning from Mecca, and a very jocular Montenegrin prince, who favoured them with imitations of the low comedians of Paris. Not one of these jokers felt the sea-sickness, and their time was passed in quaffing champagne with the steamer captain, a good fat born Marseillais, who had a wife and family as well at Algiers as at home, and who answered to the merry name of Barbassou.
Tartarin of Tarascon hated this pack of wretches; their mirthfulness deepened his ails.
At length, on the third afternoon, there was such an extraordinary hullabaloo on the deck that our hero was roused out of his long torpor. The ship’s bell was ringing and the seamen’s heavy boots ran over the planks.
“Go ahead! Stop her! Turn astern!” barked the hoarse voice of Captain Barbassou; and then, “Stop her dead!”
There was an abrupt check of movement, a shock, and no more, save the silent rolling of the boat from side to side like a balloon in the air. This strange stillness alarmed the Tarasconian.
“Heaven ha’ mercy upon us!” he yelled in a terrifying voice, as, recovering his strength by magic, he bounded out of his berth, and rushed upon deck with his arsenal.
II. “To arms! to arms”
ONLY the arrival, not a foundering.
The Zouave was just gliding into the roadstead — a fine one of black, deep water, but dull and still, almost deserted. On elevated ground ahead rose Algiers, the White City, with its little houses of a dead cream-colour huddling against one another lest they slid into the sea. It was like Meudon slope with a laundress’s washing hung out to dry. Over it a vast blue satin sky — and such a blue!
A little restored from his fright, the illustrious Tartarin gazed on the landscape, and listened with respect to the Montenegrin prince, who stood by his side, as he named the different parts of the capital, the Kasbah, the upper town, and the Rue Bab-Azoon. A very finely-brought-up prince was this Montenegrin; moreover, knowing Algeria thoroughly, and fluently speaking Arabic. Hence Tartarin thought of cultivating his acquaintance.
All at once, along the bulwark against which they were leaning, the Tarasconian perceived a row of large black hands clinging to it from over the side. Almost instantly a Negro’s woolly head shot up before him, and, ere he had time to open his mouth, the deck was overwhelmed on every side by a hundred black or yellow desperadoes, half naked, hideous, and fearsome. Tartarin knew who these pirates were —“they,” of course, the celebrated “they” who had too often been hunted after by him in the by-ways of Tarascon. At last they had decided to meet him face to face. At the outset surprise nailed him to the spot. But when he saw the outlaws fall upon the luggage, tear off the tarpaulin covering, and actually commence the pillage of the ship, then the hero awoke. Whipping out his hunting-sword, “To arms! to arms!” he roared to the passengers; and away he flew, the foremost of all, upon the buccaneers. “Ques aco? What’s the stir? What’s the matter with you?” exclaimed Captain Barbassou, coming out of the ‘tweendecks.
“About time you did turn up, captain! Quick, quick, arm your men!”
“Eh, what for? dash it all!”
“Why, can’t you see?”
“There, before you, the corsairs”
Captain Barbassou stared, bewildered. At this juncture a tall blackamoor tore by with our hero’s medicine-chest upon his back.
“You cut-throat! just wait for me!” yelled the Tarasconer as he ran after, with the knife uplifted.
But Barbassou caught him in the spring, and holding him by the waist-sash, bade him be quiet.
“Tron de ler! by the throne on high! they’re no pirates. It’s long since there were any pirates hereabout. Those dark porters are light porters. Ha, ha!”
“Rather, only come after the luggage to carry it ashore. So put up your cook’s galley knife, give me your ticket, and walk off behind that nigger — an honest dog, who will see you to land, and even into a hotel, if you like.”
A little abashed, Tartarin handed over his ticket, and falling in behind the representative of the Dark Continent, clambered down by the hanging-ladder into a big skiff dancing alongside. All his effects were already there — boxes, trunks, gun-cases, tinned food — so cramming up the boat that there was no need to wait for any other passengers. The African scrambled upon the boxes, and squatted there like a baboon, with his knees clutched by his hands. Another Negro took the oars. Both laughingly eyed Tartarin, and showed their white teeth.
Standing in the stern-sheets, making that terrifying face which had daunted his fellow-countrymen, the great Tarasconian feverishly fumbled with his hunting-knife haft; for, despite what Barbassou had told him, he was only half at ease as regarded the intention of these ebony-skinned porters, who so little resembled their honest mates of Tarascon.
Five minutes afterwards the skiff landed Tartarin, and he set foot upon the little Barbary wharf, where, three hundred years before, a Spanish galley-slave yclept Miguel Cervantes devised, under the cane of the Algerian taskmaster, a sublime romance which was to bear the title of “Don Quixote.”
III. An Invocation to Cervantes — The Disembarkation — Where are the Turks? — Not a sign of them — Disenchantment
O MIGUEL CERVANTES SAAVEDRA, if what is asserted be true, to wit, that wherever great men have dwelt some emanation of their spirits wanderingly hovers until the end of ages, then what remained of your essence on the Barbary coast must have quivered with glee on beholding Tartarin of Tarascon disembark, that marvellous type of the French Southerner, in whom was embodied both heroes of your work, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
The air was sultry on this occasion. On the wharf, ablaze with sunshine, were half a dozen revenue officers, some Algerians expecting news from France, several squatting Moors who drew at long pipes, and some Maltese mariners dragging large nets, between the meshes of which thousands of sardines glittered like small silver coins.
But hardly had Tartarin set foot on earth before the quay sprang into life and changed its aspect. A horde of savages, still more hideous than the pirates upon the steamer, rose between the stones on the strand and rushed upon the new-comer. Tall Arabs were there, nude under woollen blankets, little Moors in tatters, Negroes, Tunisians, Port Mahonese, M’zabites, hotel servants in white aprons, all yelling and shouting, hooking on his clothes, fighting over his luggage, one carrying away the provender, another his medicine-chest, and pelting him in one fantastic medley with the names of preposterously-entitled hotels.
Bewildered by all this tumult, poor Tartarin wandered to and fro, swore and stormed, went mad, ran after his property, and not knowing how to make these barbarians understand him, speechified them in French, Provencal, and even in dog Latin: “Rosa, the rose; bonus, bona, bonum!"— all that he knew — but to no purpose. He was not heeded. Happily, like a god in Homer, intervened a little fellow in a yellow-collared tunic, and armed with a long running-footman’s cane, who dispersed the whole riff-raff with cudgel-play. He was a policeman of the Algerian capital. Very politely, he suggested Tartarin should put up at the Hotel de l’Europe, and he confided him to its waiters, who carted him and his impedimenta thither in several barrows.
At the first steps he took in Algiers, Tartarin of Tarascon opened his eyes widely. Beforehand he had pictured it as an Oriental city — a fairy one, mythological, something between Constantinople and Zanzibar; but it was back into Tarascon he fell. Cafes, restaurants, wide streets, four-storey houses, a little market-place, macadamised, where the infantry band played Offenbachian polkas, whilst fashionably clad gentlemen occupied chairs, drinking beer and eating pancakes, some brilliant ladies, some shady ones, and soldiers — more soldiers — no end of soldiers, but not a solitary Turk, or, better to say, there was a solitary Turk, and that was he.
Hence he felt a little abashed about crossing the square, for everybody looked at him. The musicians stopped, the Offenbachian polka halting with one foot in the air.
With both guns on his shoulders, and the revolver flapping on his hip, as fierce and stately as Robinson Crusoe, Tartarin gravely passed through the groups; but on arriving at the hotel his powers failed him. All spun and mingled in his head: the departure from Tarascon, the harbour of Marseilles, the voyage, the Montenegrin prince, the corsairs. They had to help him up into a room and disarm and undress him. They began to talk of sending for a medical adviser; but hardly was our hero’s head upon the pillow than he set to snoring, so loudly and so heartily that the landlord judged the succour of science useless, and everybody considerately withdrew.
IV. The First Lying in Wait.
THREE o’clock was striking by the Government clock when Tartarin awoke. He had slept all the evening, night, and morning, and even a goodish piece of the afternoon. It must be granted, though, that in the last three days the red fez had caught it pretty hot and lively!
Our hero’s first thought on opening his eyes was, “I am in the land of the lions!” And — well, why should we not say it? — at the idea that lions were nigh hereabouts, within a couple of steps, almost at hand’s reach, and that he would have to disentangle a snarled skein with them, ugh! a deadly chill struck him, and he dived intrepidly under the coverlet.
But, before a moment was over, the outward gaiety, the blue sky, the glowing sun that streamed into the bedchamber, a nice little breakfast that he ate in bed, his window wide open upon the sea, the whole flavoured with an uncommonly good bottle of Crescia wine — it very speedily restored him his former pluckiness.
“Let’s out and at the lion!” he exclaimed, throwing off the clothes and briskly dressing himself.
His plan was as follows: he would go forth from the city without saying a word to a soul, plunge into the great desert, await nightfall to ambush himself, and bang away at the first lion who walked up. Then would he return to breakfast in the morning at the hotel, receive the felicitations of the natives, and hire a cart to bring in the quarry.
So he hurriedly armed himself, attached upright on his back the shelter-tent (which, when rolled up, left its centre pole sticking out a clear foot above his head), and descended to the street as stiffly as though he had swallowed it. Not caring to ask the way of anybody, from fear of letting out his project, he turned fairly to the right, and threaded the Bab-Azoon arcade to the very end, where swarms of Algerian Jews watched him pass from their corner ambushes like so many spiders; crossing the Theatre place, he entered the outer ward, and lastly came upon the dusty Mustapha highway.
Upon this was a quaint conglomeration: omnibuses, hackney coaches, corricolos, the army service waggons, huge hay-carts drawn by bullocks, squads of Chasseurs d’Afrique, droves of microscopic asses, trucks of Alsatian emigrants, spahis in scarlet cloaks — all filed by in a whirlwind cloud of dust, amidst shouts, songs, and trumpetcalls, between two rows of vile-looking booths, at the doors of which lanky Mahonnais women might be seen doing their hair, drinking-dens filled with soldiers, and shops of butchers and knackers.
“What rubbish, to din me about the Orient!” grumbled the great Tartarin; “there are not even as many Turks here as at Marseilles.”
All of a sudden he saw a splendid camel strut by him quite closely, stretching its long legs and puffing out its throat like a turkey-cock, and that made his heart throb. Camels already, eh? Lions could not be far Off now; and, indeed, in five minutes’ time he did see a whole band of lion-hunters coming his way under arms.
“Cowards!” thought our hero as he skirted them; “downright cowards, to go at a lion in companies and with dogs!”
For it never could occur to him that anything but lions were objects of the chase in Algeria. For all that, these Nimrods wore such complacent phizzes of retired tradesmen, and their style of lion-hunting with dogs and game-bags was so patriarchal, that the Tarasconian, a little perplexed, deemed it incumbent to question one of the gentlemen.
“And furthermore, comrade, is the sport good?”
“Not bad,” responded the other, regarding the speaker’s imposing warlike equipment with a scared eye.
“Rather! Not so bad — only look.” Whereupon the Algerian sportsman showed that it was rabbits and woodcock stuffing out the bag.
“What! do you call that your bag? Do you put such-like in your bag?”
“Where else should I put ’em?”
“But it’s such little game.”
“Some run small and some run large,” observed the hunter.
In haste to catch up with his companions, he joined them with several long strides. The dauntless Tartarin remained rooted in the middle of the road with stupefaction. “Pooh!” he ejaculated, after a moment’s reflection, “these are jokers. They haven’t killed anything whatever,” and he went his way.
Already the houses became scarcer, and so did the passengers. Dark came on and objects were blurred, though Tartarin walked on for half an hour more, when he stopped, for it was night. A moonless night, too, but sprinkled with stars. On the highroad there was nobody. The hero concluded that lions are not stage-coaches, and would not of their own choice travel the main ways. So he wheeled into the fields, where there were brambles and ditches and bushes at every step, but he kept on nevertheless.
But suddenly he halted.
“I smell lions about here!” said our friend, sniffing right and left.
V. Bang, bang!
CERTAINLY a great wilderness, bristling with odd plants of that Oriental kind which look like wicked creatures. Under the feeble starlight their magnified shadows barred the ground in every way. On the right loomed up confusedly the heavy mass of a mountain — perhaps the Atlas range. On the heart-hand, the invisible sea hollowly rolling. The very spot to attract wild beasts.
With one gun laid before him and the other in his grasp, Tartarin of Tarascon went down on one knee and waited an hour, ay, a good couple, and nothing turned up. Then he bethought him how, in his books, the great lion-slayers never went out hunting without having a lamb or a kid along with them, which they tied up a space before them, and set bleating or baa-ing by jerking its foot with a string. Not having any goat, the Tarasconer had the idea of employing an imitation, and he set to crying in a tremulous voice:
At first it was done very softly, because at bottom he was a little alarmed lest the lion should hear him; but as nothing came, he baa-ed more loudly. Still nothing. Losing patience, he resumed many times running at the top of his voice, till the “Baa, baa, baa!” came out with so much power that the goat began to be mistakable for a bull.
Unexpectedly, a few steps in front, some gigantic black thing appeared. He was hushed. This thing lowered its head, sniffed the ground, bounded up, rolled over, and darted off at the gallop, but returned and stopped short. Who could doubt it was the lion? for now its four short legs could plainly be seen, its formidable mane and its large eyes gleaming in the gloom.
Up went his gun into position. Fire’s the word! and bang, bang! it was done. And immediately there was a leap back and the drawing of the hunting-knife. To the Tarasconian’s shot a terrible roaring replied.
“He’s got it!” cried our good Tartarin as, steadying himself on his sturdy supporters, he prepared to receive the brute’s charge.
But it had more than its fill, and galloped off; howling. He did not budge, for he expected to see the female mate appear, as the story-books always lay it down she should.
Unhappily, no female came. After two or three hours’ waiting the Tarasconian grew tired. The ground was damp, the night was getting cool, and the sea-breeze pricked sharply.
“I have a good mind to take a nap till daylight,” he said to himself.
To avoid catching rheumatism, he had recourse to his patent tent. But here’s where Old Nick interfered! This tent was of so very ingenious a construction that he could not manage to open it. In vain did he toil over it and perspire an hour through — the confounded apparatus would not come unfolded. There are some umbrellas which amuse themselves under torrential rains with just such tricks upon you. Fairly tired out with the struggle, the victim dashed down the machine and lay upon it, swearing like the regular Southron he was. “Tar, tar, rar, tar! tar, rar, tar!”
“What on earth’s that?” wondered Tartarin, suddenly aroused.
It was the bugles of the Chasseurs d’Afrique sounding the turn-out in the Mustapha barracks. The stupefied lion-slayer rubbed his eyes, for he had believed himself out in the boundless wilderness; and do you know where he really was? — in a field of artichokes, between a cabbage-garden and a patch of beets. His Sahara grew kitchen vegetables.
Close to him, on the pretty verdant slope of Upper Mustapha, the snowy villas glowed in the rosy rising sun: anybody would believe himself in the neighbourhood of Marseilles, amongst its bastides and bastidons.
The commonplace and kitchen-gardenish aspect of this sleep-steeped country much astonished the poor man, and put him in bad humour.
“These folk are crazy,” he reasoned, “to plant artichokes in the prowling-ground of lions; for, in short, I have not been dreaming. Lions have come here, and there’s the proof.”
What he called the proof was blood-spots left behind the beast in its flight. Bending over this ruddy trail with his eye on the lookout and his revolver in his fist, the valiant Tarasconian went from artichoke to artichoke up to a little field of oats. In the trampled grass was a pool of blood, and in the midst of the pool, lying on its flank, with a large wound in the head, was a — guess what?
“A lion, of course!”
Not a bit of it! An ass! — one of those little donkeys so common in Algeria, where they are called bourriquots.
VI. Arrival of the Female — A Terrible Combat —“Game Fellows Meet Here!”
LOOKING on his hapless victim, Tartarin’s first impulse was one of vexation. There is such a wide gap between a lion and poor Jack! His second feeling was one of pity. The poor bourriquot was so pretty and looked so kindly. The hide on his still warm sides heaved and fell like waves. Tartarin knelt down, and strove with the end of his Algerian sash to stanch the blood; and all you can imagine in the way of touchingness was offered by the picture of this great man tending this little ass.
At the touch of the silky cloth the donkey, who had not twopennyworth of life in him, opened his large grey eye and winked his long ears two or three times, as much as to say, “Oh, thank you!” before a final spasm shook it from head to tail, whereafter it stirred no more.
“Noiraud! Blackey!” suddenly screamed a voice, choking with anguish, as the branches in a thicket hard by moved at the same time.
Tartarin had no more than enough time to rise and stand upon guard. This was the female!
She rushed up, fearsome and roaring, under form of an old Alsatian woman, her hair in a kerchief, armed with large red umbrella, and calling for her ass, till all the echoes of Mustapha rang. It certainly would have been better for Tartarin to have had to deal with a lioness in fury than this old virago. In vain did the luckless sportsman try to make her understand how the blunder had occurred, and he had mistaken “Noiraud” for a lion. The harridan believed he was making fun of her, and uttering energetical “Der Teufels!” fell upon our hero to bang him with the gingham. A little bewildered, Tartarin defended himself as best he could, warding off the blows with his rifle, streaming with perspiration, panting, jumping about, and crying out:
“But, Madame, but”—
Much good his buts were! Madame was dull of hearing, and her blows continued hard as ever.
Fortunately a third party arrived on the battlefield, the Alsatian’s husband, of the same race; a roadside innkeeper, as well as a very good ready-reckoner, which was better. When he saw what kind of a customer he had to deal with — a slaughterer who only wanted to pay the value of his victim — he disarmed his better-half, and they came to an understanding.
Tartarin gave two hundred francs, the donkey being worth about ten — at least that is the current price in the Arab markets. Then poor Blackey was laid to rest at the root of a fig-tree, and the Alsatian, raised to joviality by the colour of the Tarascon ducats, invited the hero to have a quencher with him in his wine-shop, which stood only a few steps off on the edge of the highway. Every Sunday the sportsmen from the city came there to regale of a morning, for the plain abounded with game, and there was no better place for rabbits for two leagues around.
“How about lions?” inquired Tartarin.
The Alsatian stared at him, greatly astounded.
“Yes, lions. Don’t you see them sometimes?” resumed the poor fellow, with less confidence.
The Boniface burst out in laughter.
“Ho, ho! bless us! lions! What would we do with lions here?”
“Are there, then, none in Algeria?”
“‘Pon my faith, I never saw any, albeit I have been twenty years in the colony. Still, I believe I have heard tell of such a thing — leastwise, I fancy the newspapers said — but that is ever so much farther inland — down South, you know”—
At this point they reached the hostelry, a suburban pothouse, with a withered green bough over the door, crossed billiard-cues painted on the wall, and this harmless sign over a picture of wild rabbits, feeding:
“GAME FELLOWS MEET HERE.”
“Game fellows!” It made Tartarin think of Captain Bravida.
VII. About an Omnibus, a Moorish Beauty, and a Wreath of Jessamine.
COMMON people would have been discouraged by such a first adventure, but men of Tartarin’s mettle do not easily get cast down.
“The lions are in the South, are they?” mused the hero. “Very well, then. South I go.”
As soon as he had swallowed his last mouthful he jumped up, thanked his host, nodded good-bye to the old hag without any ill-will, dropped a final tear over the hapless Blackey, and quickly returned to Algiers, with the firm intention of packing up and starting that very day for the South.
The Mustapha highroad seemed, unfortunately, to have stretched since overnight; and what a sun and dust there were, and what a weight in that shelter-tent! Tartarin did not feel to have the courage to walk to the town, and he beckoned to the first omnibus coming along, and climbed in.
Oh, our poor Tartarin of Tarascon! how much better it would have been for his name and fame not to have stepped into that fatal ark on wheels, but to have continued on his road afoot, at the risk of falling suffocated beneath the burden of the atmosphere, the tent, and his heavy double-barrelled rifles.
When Tartarin got in the ‘bus was full. At the end, with his nose in his prayer-book, sat a large and black-bearded vicar from town; facing him was a young Moorish merchant smoking coarse cigarettes, and a Maltese sailor and four or five Moorish women muffled up in white cloths, so that only their eyes could be spied.
These ladies had been to offer up prayers in the Abdel Kader cemetery; but this funereal visit did not seem to have much saddened them, for they could be heard chuckling and chattering between themselves under their coverings whilst munching pastry. Tartarin fancied that they watched him narrowly. One in particular, seated over against him, had fixed her eyes upon his, and never took them off all the drive. Although the dame was veiled, the liveliness of the big black eyes, lengthened out by k’hol; a delightfully slender wrist loaded with gold bracelets, of which a glimpse was given from time to time among the folds; the sound of her voice, the graceful, almost childlike, movements of the head, all revealed that a young, pretty, and loveable creature bloomed underneath the veil. The unfortunate Tartarin did not know where to shrink. The fond, mute gaze of these splendrous Oriental orbs agitated him, perturbed him, and made him feel like dying with flushes of heat and fits of cold shivers.
To finish him, the lady’s slipper meddled in the onslaught: he felt the dainty thing wander and frisk about over his heavy hunting boots like a tiny red mouse. What could he do? Answer the glance and the pressure, of course. Ay, but what about the consequences? A loving intrigue in the East is a terrible matter! With his romantic southern nature, the honest Tarasconian saw himself already falling into the grip of the eunuchs, to be decapitated, or better — we mean, worse — than that, sewn up in a leather sack and sunk in the sea with his head under his arm beside him. This somewhat cooled him. In the meantime the little slipper continued its proceedings, and the eyes, widely open opposite him like twin black velvet flowers, seemed to say:
“Come, cull us!”
The ‘bus stopped on the Theatre place, at the mouth of the Rue Bab-Azoon. One by one, embedded in their voluminous trousers, and drawing their mufflers around them with wild grace, the Moorish women alighted. Tartarin’s confrontatress was the last to rise, and in doing so her countenance skimmed so closely to our hero’s that her breath enveloped him — a veritable nosegay of youth and freshness, with an indescribable after-tang of musk, jessamine, and pastry.
The Tarasconian stood out no longer. Intoxicated with love, and ready for anything, he darted out after the beauty. At the rumpling sound of his belts and boots she turned, laid a finger on her veiled mouth, as one who would say, “Hush!” and with the other hand quickly tossed him a little wreath of sweet-scented jessamine flowers. Tartarin of Tarascon stooped to pick it up; but as he was rather clumsy, and much overburdened with implements of war, the operation took rather long. When he did straighten up, with the jessamine garland upon his heart, the donatrix had vanished.
VIII. Ye Lions of the Atlas, repose in peace!
LIONS of the Atlas, sleep! — sleep tranquilly at the back of your lairs amid the aloes and cacti. For a few days to come, any way, Tartarin of Tarascon will not massacre you. For the time being, all his warlike paraphernalia, gun-cases, medicine chest, alimentary preserves, dwelt peacefully under cover in a corner of room 36 in the Hotel de l’Europe.
Sleep with no fear, great red lions, the Tarasconian is engaged in looking up that Moorish charmer. Since the adventure in the omnibus, the unfortunate swain perpetually fancied he felt the fidgeting of that pretty red mouse upon his huge backwoods trapper’s foot; and the sea-breeze fanning his lips was ever scented, do what he would, with a love-exciting odour of sweet cakes and patchouli.
He hungered for his indispensable light of the harem! and he meant to behold her anew.
But it was no joke of a task. To find one certain person in a city of a hundred thousand souls, only known by the eyes, breath, and slipper — none but a son of Tarascon, panoplied by love, would be capable of attempting such an adventure.
The plague is that, under their broad white mufflers, all the Moorish women resemble one another; besides, they do not go about much, and to see them, a man has to climb up into the native or upper town, the city of the “Turks,” and that is a regular cut-throat’s den.
Little black alleys, very narrow, climbing perpendicularly up between mysterious house-walls, whose roofs lean to touching and form a tunnel; low doors, and sad, silent little casements well barred and grated. Moreover, on both hands, stacks of darksome stalls, wherein ferocious “Turks” smoked long pipes stuck between glittering teeth in piratical heads with white eyes, and mumbled in undertones as if hatching wicked attacks.
To say that Tartarin traversed this grisly place without any emotion would be putting forth falsehood. On the contrary, he was much affected, and the stout fellow only went up the obscure lanes, where his corporation took up all the width, with the utmost precaution, his eye skinned, and his finger on his revolver trigger, in the same manner as he went to the clubhouse at Tarascon. At any moment he expected to have a whole gang of eunuchs and janissaries drop upon his back, yet the longing to behold that dark damsel again gave him a giant’s strength and boldness.
For a full week the undaunted Tartarin never quitted the high town. Yes; for all that period he might have been seen cooling his heels before the Turkish bath-houses, awaiting the hour when the ladies came forth in troops, shivering and still redolent of soap and hot water; or squatting at the doorways of mosques, puffing and melting in trying to get out of his big boots in order to enter the temples.
Betimes at nightfall, when he was returning heart-broken at not having discovered anything at either bagnio or mosque, our man from Tarascon, in passing mansions, would hear monotonous songs, smothered twanging of guitars, thumping of tambourines, and feminine laughter-peals, which would make his heart beat.
“Haply she is there!” he would say to himself.
Thereupon, granting the street was unpeopled, he would go up to one of these dwellings, lift the heavy knocker of the low postern, and timidly rap. The songs and merriment would instantly cease. There would be audible behind the wall nothing excepting low, dull flutterings as in a slumbering aviary.
“Let’s stick to it, old boy,” our hero would think. “Something will befall us yet.”
What most often befell him was the contents of the cold-water jug on the head, or else peel of oranges and Barbary figs; never anything more serious.
Well might the lions of the Atlas Mountains doze in peace.
IX. Prince Gregory of Montenegro.
IT was two long weeks that the unfortunate Tartarin had been seeking his Algerian flame, and most likely he would have been seeking after her to this day if the little god kind to lovers had not come to his help under the shape of a Montenegrin nobleman.
It happened as follows.
Every Saturday night in winter there is a masked ball at the Grand Theatre of Algiers, just as at the Paris Opera-House. It is the undying and ever-tasteless county fancy dress ball — very few people on the floor, several castaways from the Parisian students’ ballrooms or midnight dance-houses, Joans of Arc following the army, faded characters out of the Java costume-book of 1840, and half-a-dozen laundress’s underlings who are aiming to make loftier conquests, but still preserve a faint perfume of their former life — garlic and saffron sauce. The real spectacle is not there, but in the green-room, transformed for the nonce into a hall of green cloth or gaming saloon.
An enfevered and motley mob hustle one another around the long green table-covers: Turcos out for the day and staking their double halfpence, Moorish traders from the native town, Negroes, Maltese, colonists from the inland, who have come forty leagues in order to risk on a turning card the price of a plough or of a yoke of oxen; all a-quivering, pale, clenching their teeth, and with that singular, wavering, sidelong look of the gamester, become a squint from always staring at the same card in the lay-out.
A little apart are the tribes of Algerian Jews, playing among acquaintances. The men are in the Oriental costume; hideously varied with blue stockings and velvet caps. The puffy and flabby women sit up stiffly in tight golden bodices. Grouped around the tables, the whole tribe wail, squeal, combine, reckon on the fingers, and play but little. Now and anon, however, after long conferences, some old patriarch, with a beard like those of saints by the Old Masters, detaches himself from the party and goes to risk the family duro. As long as the game lasted there would be a scintillation of Hebraic eyes directed on the board — dreadful black diamonds, which made the gold pieces shiver, and ended by gently attracting them, as if drawn by a thread. Then arose wrangles, quarrels, battles, oaths of every land, mad outcries in all tongues, knives flashing out, the guard marching in, and the money disappearing.
It was into the thick of this saturnalia that the great Tartarin came straying one evening to find oblivion and heart’s ease.
He was roving alone through the gathering, brooding about his Moorish beauty, when two angered voices arose suddenly from a gaming-table above all the clamour and chink of coin.
“I tell you, M’sieu, that I am twenty francs short!”
“Stuff yourself; M’sieu!”
“You shall learn whom you are addressing, M’sieu!”
“I am dying to do that, M’sieu!”
“I am Prince Gregory of Montenegro, M’sieu.”
Upon this title Tartarin, much excited, cleft the throng and placed himself in the foremost rank, proud and happy to find his prince again, the Montenegrin noble of such politeness whose acquaintance he had begun on board of the mail steamer. Unfortunately the title of Highness, which had so dazzled the worthy Tarasconian, did not produce the slightest impression upon the Chasseurs officer with whom the noble had his dispute.
“I am much the wiser!” observed the military gentleman sneeringly; and turning to the bystanders he added: “‘Prince Gregory of Montenegro’— who knows any such a person? Nobody!”
The indignant Tartarin took one step forward.
“Allow me. I know the prince,” said he, in a very firm voice, and with his finest Tarasconian accent.
The light cavalry officer eyed him hard for a moment, and then, shrugging his shoulders, returned:
“Come, that is good! Just you two share the twenty francs lacking between you, and let us talk no more on the score.”
Whereupon he turned his back upon them and mixed with the crowd. The stormy Tartarin was going to rush after him, but the prince prevented that.
“Let him go. I can manage my own affairs.”
Taking the interventionist by the arm, he drew him rapidly out of doors. When they were upon the square, Prince Gregory of Montenegro lifted his hat off; extended his hand to our hero, and as he but dimly remembered his name, he began in a vibrating voice:
“Monsieur Barbarin —”
“Tartarin!” prompted the other, timidly.
“Tartarin, Barbarin, no matter! Between us henceforward it is a league of life and death!”
The Montenegrin noble shook his hand with fierce energy. You may infer that the Tarasconian was proud.
“Prince, prince!” he repeated enthusiastically.
In a quarter of an hour subsequently the two gentlemen were installed in the Platanes Restaurant, an agreeable late supper-house, with terraces running out over the sea, where, before a hearty Russian salad, seconded by a nice Crescia wine, they renewed the friendship.
You cannot image any one more bewitching than this Montenegrin prince. Slender, fine, with crisp hair curled by the tongs, shaved “a week under” and pumice-stoned on that, bestarred with out-of-the-way decorations, he had the wily eye, the fondling gestures, and vaguely the accent of an Italian, which gave him an air of Cardinal Mazarin without his chin-tuft and moustaches. He was deeply versed in the Latin tongues, and lugged in quotations from Tacitus, Horace, and Caesar’s Commentaries at every opening.
Of an old noble strain, it appeared that his brothers had had him exiled at the age of ten, on account of his liberal opinions, since which time he had roamed the world for pleasure and instruction as a philosophical noble. A singular coincidence! the prince had spent three years in Tarascon; and as Tartarin showed amazement at never having met him at the club or on the esplanade, His Highness evasively remarked that he never went about. Through delicacy, the Tarasconian did not dare to question further. All great existences have such mysterious nooks.
To sum up, this Signor Gregory was a very genial aristocrat. Whilst sipping the rosy Crescia juice he patiently listened to Tartarin’s expatiating on his lovely Moor, and he even promised to find her speedily, as he had full knowledge of the native ladies.
They drank hard and lengthily in toasts to “The ladies of Algiers” and “The freedom of Montenegro!”
Outside, upon the terrace, heaved the sea, and its rollers slapped the strand in the darkness with much the sound of wet sails flapping. The air was warm, and the sky full of stars.
In the plane-trees a nightingale was piping.
It was Tartarin who paid the piper.
X. “Tell me your father’s name, and I will tell you the name of that flower.”
PRINCES of Montenegro are the ones to find the love-bird.
On the morrow early after this evening at the Platanes, Prince Gregory was in the Tarasconian’s bedroom.
“Quick! Dress yourself quickly! Your Moorish beauty is found, Her name is Baya. She’s scarce twenty — as pretty as a love, and already a widow.”
“A widow! What a slice of luck!” joyfully exclaimed Tartarin, who dreaded Oriental husbands.
“Ay, but woefully closely guarded by her brother.”
“Oh, the mischief!”
“A savage chap who vends pipes in the Orleans bazaar.”
Here fell a silence.
“A fig for that!” proceeded the prince; “you are not the man to be daunted by such a trifle; and, anyhow, this old corsair can be pacified, I daresay, by having some pipes bought of him. But be quick! On with your courting suit, you lucky dog!”
Pale and agitated, with his heart brimming over with love, the Tarasconian leaped out of his couch, and, as he hastily buttoned up his capacious nether garment, wanted to know how he should act.
“Write straightway to the lady and ask for a tryst.”
“Do you mean to say she knows French?” queried the Tarasconian simpleton, with the disappointed mien of one who had believed thoroughly in the Orient.
“Not one word of it,” rejoined the prince imperturbably; “but you can dictate the billet-doux, and I will translate it bit by bit.”
“O prince, how kind you are!”
The lover began striding up and down the bedroom in silent meditation.
Naturally a man does not write to a Moorish girl in Algiers in the same way as to a seamstress of Beaucaire. It was a very lucky thing that our hero had in mind his numerous readings, which allowed him, by amalgamating the Red Indian eloquence of Gustave Aimard’s Apaches with Lamartine’s rhetorical flourishes in the “Voyage en Orient,” and some reminiscences of the “Song of Songs,” to compose the most Eastern letter that you could expect to see. It opened with:
“Like unto the ostrich upon the sandy waste”—
and concluded by:
“Tell me your father’s name, and I will tell you the name of that flower.”
To this missive the romantic Tartarin would have much liked to join an emblematic bouquet of flowers in the Eastern fashion; but Prince Gregory thought it better to purchase some pipes at the brother’s, which could not fail to soften his wild temper, and would certainly please the lady a very great deal, as she was much of a smoker.
“Let’s be off at once to buy them!” said Tartarin, full of ardour.
“No, no! Let me go alone. I can get them cheaper.”
“Eh, what? Would you save me the trouble? O prince, prince, you do me proud!”
Quite abashed, the good-hearted fellow offered his purse to the obliging Montenegrin, urging him to overlook nothing by which the lady would be gratified.
Unfortunately the suit, albeit capitally commenced, did not progress as rapidly as might have been anticipated. It appeared that the Moorish beauty was very deeply affected by Tartarin’s eloquence, and, for that matter, three-parts won beforehand, so that she wished nothing better than to receive him; but that brother of hers had qualms, and to lull them it was necessary to buy pipes by the dozens; nay, the gross — well, we had best say by the shipload at once.
“What the plague can Baya do with all these pipes?” poor Tartarin wanted to know more than once; but he paid the bills all the same, and without niggardliness.
At length, after having purchased a mountainous stack of pipes and poured forth lakes of Oriental poesy, an interview was arranged. I have no need to tell you with what throbbings of the heart the Tarasconian prepared himself; with what carefulness he trimmed, brilliantined, and perfumed his rough cap-popper’s beard, and how he did not forget — for everything must be thought of — to slip a spiky life-preserver and two or three six-shooters into his pockets.
The ever-obliging prince was coming to this first meeting in the office of interpreter.
The lady dwelt in the upper part of the town. Before her doorway a boy Moor of fourteen or less was smoking cigarettes; this was the brother in question, the celebrated Ali. On seeing the pair of visitors arrive, he gave a double knock on the postern gate and delicately glided away.
The door opened. A negress appeared, who conducted the gentlemen, without uttering a word, across the narrow inner courtyard into a small cool room, where the lady awaited them, reclining on a low ottoman. At first glance she appeared smaller and stouter than the Moorish damsel met in the omnibus by the Tarasconian. In fact, was it really the same? But the doubt merely flashed through Tartarin’s brain like a stroke of lightning.
The dame was so pretty thus, with her feet bare, and plump fingers, fine and pink, loaded with rings. Under her bodice of gilded cloth and the folds of her flower-patterned dress was suggested a lovable creature, rather blessed materially, rounded everywhere, and nice enough to eat. The amber mouthpiece of a narghileh smoked at her lips, and enveloped her wholly in a halo of light-coloured smoke.
On entering, the Tarasconian laid a hand on his heart and bowed as Moorlike as possible, whilst rolling his large impassioned eyes.
Baya gazed on him for a moment without making any answer; but then, dropping her pipe-stem, she threw her head back, hid it in her hands, and they could only see her white neck rippling with a wild laugh like a bag full of pearls.
XI. Sidi Tart’ri Ben Tart’ri.
SHOULD you ever drop into the coffee-houses of the Algerian upper town after dark, even at this day, you would still hear the natives chatting among themselves, with many a wink and slight laugh, of one Sidi Tart’ri Ben Tart’ri, a rich and good-humoured European, who dwelt, a few years back, in that neighbourhood, with a buxom witch of local origin, named Baya.
This Sidi Tart’ri, who has left such a merry memory around the Kasbah, is no other than our Tartarin, as will be guessed.
How could you expect things otherwise? In the lives of heroes, of saints, too, it happens the same way — there are moments of blindness, perturbation, and weakness. The illustrious Tarasconian was no more exempt from this than another, and that is the reason during two months that, oblivious of fame and lions, he revelled in Oriental amorousness, and dozed, like Hannibal at Capua, in the delights of Algiers the white.
The good fellow took a pretty little house in the native style in the heart of the Arab town, with inner courtyard, banana-trees, cool verandahs, and fountains. He dwelt, afar from noise, in company with the Moorish charmer, a thorough woman to the manner born, who pulled at her hubble-bubble all day when she was not eating.
Stretched out on a divan in front of him, Baya would drone him monotonous tunes with a guitar in her fist; or else, to distract her lord and master, favour him with the Bee Dance, holding a hand-glass up, in which she reflected her white teeth and the faces she made.
As the Esmeralda did not know a word of French, and Tartarin none in Arabic, the conversation died away sometimes, and the Tarasconian had plenty of leisure to do penance for the gush of language of which he had been guilty in the shop of Bezuquet the chemist or that of Costecalde the gunmaker.
But this penance was not devoid of charm, for he felt a kind of enjoyable sullenness in dawdling away the whole day without speaking, and in listening to the gurgling of the hookah, the strumming of the guitar, and the faint splashing of the fountain on the mosaic pavement of the yard.
The pipe, the bath, and caresses filled his entire life. They seldom went out of doors. Sometimes with his lady-love upon a pillion, Sidi Tart’ri would ride upon a sturdy mule to eat pomegranates in a little garden he had purchased in the suburbs. But never, without exception, did he go down into the European quarter. This kind of Algiers appeared to him as ugly and unbearable as a barracks at home, with its Zouaves in revelry, its music-halls crammed with officers, and its everlasting clank of metal sabre-sheaths under the arcades.
The sum total is, that our Tarasconian was very happy.
Sancho-Tartarin particularly, being very sweet upon Turkish pastry, declared that one could not be more satisfied than by this new existence. Quixote-Tartarin had some twinges at whiles on thinking of Tarascon and the promises of lion-skins; but this remorse did not last, and to drive away such dampening ideas there sufficed one glance from Baya, or a spoonful of those diabolical dizzying and odoriferous sweetmeats like Circe’s brews.
In the evening Gregory came to discourse a little about a free Black Mountain. Of indefatigable obligingness, this amiable nobleman filled the functions of an interpreter in the household, or those of a steward at a pinch, and all for nothing for the sheer pleasure of it. Apart from him, Tartarin received none but “Turks.” All those fierce-headed pirates who had given him such frights from the backs of their black stalls turned out, when once he made their acquaintance, to be good inoffensive tradesmen, embroiderers, dealers in spice, pipe-mouthpiece turners — well-bred fellows, humble, clever, close, and first-class hands at homely card games. Four or five times a week these gentry would come and spend the evening at Sidi Tart’ri’s, winning his small change, eating his cakes and dainties, and delicately retiring on the stroke of ten with thanks to the Prophet.
Left alone, Sidi Tart’ri and his faithful spouse by the broomstick wedding would finish the evening on their terrace, a broad white roof which overlooked the city.
All around them a thousand of other such white flats, placid beneath the moonshine, were descending like steps to the sea. The breeze carried up tinkling of guitars.
Suddenly, like a shower of firework stars, a full, clear melody would be softly sprinkled out from the sky, and on the minaret of the neighbouring mosque a handsome muezzin would appear, his blanched form outlined on the deep blue of the night, as he chanted the glory of Allah with a marvellous voice, which filled the horizon.
Thereupon Baya would let go her guitar, and with her large eyes turned towards the crier, seem to imbibe the prayer deliciously. As long as the chant endured she would remain thrilled there in ecstasy, like an Oriental saint. The deeply impressed Tartarin would watch her pray, and conclude that it must be a splendid and powerful creed that could cause such frenzies of faith.
Tarascon, veil thy face! here is a son of thine on the point of becoming a renegade!
XII. The Latest Intelligence from Tarascon.
PARTING from his little country seat, Sidi Tart’ri was returning alone on his mule on a fine afternoon, when the sky was blue and the zephyrs warm. His legs were kept wide apart by ample saddle-bags of esparto cloth, swelled out with cedrats and water-melons. Lulled by the ring of his large stirrups, and rocking his body to the swing and swaying of the beast, the good fellow was thus traversing an adorable country, with his hands folded on his paunch, three-quarters gone, through heat, in a comfortable doze. All at once, on entering the town, a deafening appeal aroused him.
“Ahoy! What a monster Fate is! Anybody’d take this for Monsieur Tartarin.”
On this name, and at the jolly southern accent, the Tarasconian lifted his head, and perceived, a couple of steps away, the honest tanned visage of Captain Barbassou, master of the Zouave, who was taking his absinthe at the door of a little coffee-house.
“Hey! Lord love you, Barbassou!” said Tartarin, pulling up his mule.
Instead of continuing the dialogue, Barbassou stared at him for a space ere he burst into a peal of such hilarity that Sidi Tart’ri sat back dumbfounded on his melons.
“What a stunning turban, my poor Monsieur Tartarin! Is it true, what they say of your having turned Turk? How is little Baya? Is she still singing ‘Marco la Bella’?”
“Marco la Bella!” repeated the indignant Tartarin. “I’ll have you to know, captain, that the person you mention is an honourable Moorish lady, and one who does not know a word of French.”
“Baya does not know French! What lunatic asylum do you hail from, then?”
The good captain broke into still heartier laughter; but, seeing the chops of poor Sidi Tart’ri fall he changed his course.
“Howsoever, may happen it is not the same lass. Let’s reckon that I have mixed ’em up. Still, mark you, Monsieur Tartarin, you will do well, nonetheless, to distrust Algerian Moors and Montenegrin princes.”
Tartarin rose in the stirrups, making a wry face.
“The prince is my friend, captain.”
“Come, come, don’t wax wrathy. Won’t you have some bitters to sweeten you? No? Haven’t you anything to say to the folks at home, neither? Well, then, a pleasant journey. By the way, mate, I have some good French ‘bacco upon me, and if you would like to carry away a few pipefuls, you have only to take some. Take it, won’t you? It’s your beastly Oriental ‘baccoes that have befogged your brain.”
Upon this the captain went back to his absinthe, whilst the moody Tartarin trotted slowly on the road to his little house. Although his great soul refused to credit anything, Barbassou’s insinuations had vexed him, and the familiar adjurations and home accent had awakened vague remorse.
He found nobody at home, Baya having gone out to the bath. The negress appeared sinister and the dwelling saddening. A prey to inexpressible melancholy, he went and sat down by the fountain to load a pipe with Barbassou’s tobacco. It was wrapped up in a piece of the Marseilles Semaphore newspaper. On flattening it out, the name of his native place struck his eyes.
“Our Tarascon correspondent writes:—
“The city is in distress. There has been no news for several months from Tartarin the lion-slayer, who set off to hunt the great feline tribe in Africa. What can have become of our heroic fellow-countryman? Those hardly dare ask who know, as we do, how hot-headed he was, and what boldness and thirst for adventures were his. Has he, like many others, been smothered in the sands, or has he fallen under the murderous fangs of one of those monsters of the Atlas Range of which he had promised the skins to the municipality? What a dreadful state of uncertainty! It is true some Negro traders, come to Beaucaire Fair, assert having met in the middle of the deserts a European whose description agreed with his; he was proceeding towards Timbuctoo. May Heaven preserve our Tartarin!”
When he read this, the son of Tarascon reddened, blanched, and shuddered. All Tarascon appeared unto him: the club, the cap-poppers, Costecalde’s green arm-chair, and, hovering over all like a spread eagle, the imposing moustaches of brave Commandant Bravida.
At seeing himself here, as he was, cowardly lolling on a mat, whilst his friends believed him slaughtering wild beasts, Tartarin of Tarascon was ashamed of himself, and could have wept had he not been a hero.
Suddenly he leaped up and thundered:
“The lion, the lion! Down with him!”
And dashing into the dusty lumber-hole where mouldered the shelter-tent, the medicine-chest, the potted meats, and the gun-cases, he dragged them out into the middle of the court.
Sancho-Tartarin was no more: Quixote-Tartarin occupied the field of active life.
Only the time to inspect his armament and stores, don his harness, get into his heavy boots, scribble a couple of words to confide Baya to the prince, and slip a few bank-notes sprinkled with tears into the envelope, and then the dauntless Tarasconian rolled away in the stage-coach on the Blidah road, leaving the house to the negress, stupor-stricken before the pipe, the turban, and babooshes — all the Moslem shell of Sidi Tart’ri which sprawled piteously under the little white trefoils of the gallery.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07